Thursday, January 20, 2011
There are some athletes that do contribute more to the world than their athletic prowess, and often we are not aware of the impact they have had, either directly or indirectly.
Cookie Gilchrist, a bruising fullback who as one of the American Football League's first star players helped lead the Buffalo Bills to a championship in 1964, died of cancer on Monday, January 10 at the age of 75.
What many people don't know about Cookie, is he was huge player in the desegregation of New Orleans.
For all his on-field accomplishments, Gilchrist should perhaps be best remembered for his role in the boycott of the A.F.L. All-Star Game after the 1964 season, originally scheduled for Tulane Stadium in still-segregated New Orleans.
The Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Mix explained: “The black players were having a hard time getting cabs from the airport. Cab drivers wouldn’t pick them up. Then, when they went out to try and get food, they were turned away from all the restaurants.” (Ken Rappoport, “The Little League that Could: A History of the American Football League).
All 21 black players who were scheduled to play in the game met at the Roosevelt Hotel. These were some of the biggest names in football at that time, including Bobby Bell, Willie Brown, Winston Hill, Clem Daniels and Ernie Ladd. Mix urged them to play the game in New Orleans to bring national attention to the situation, but they refused. “No, it’s gone too far,” Gilchrist said. “We’re not going to play in this town. Time to take a stand.” (Rappoport)
One day later, A.F.L. Commissioner Joe Foss announced that the game would be moved to Jeppesen Stadium in Houston. Mix believes that the boycott helped desegregate New Orleans, paving the way for the N.F.L. to expand there in 1967. “They knew now they weren’t (going) to get an N.F.L. franchise unless they desegregated the city,” Mix was quoted as saying in Rappoport’s book. “That’s what they did. It was desegregated ahead of schedule.”
Cookie was an athlete worthy of his status.