Race and Violence on the Gridiron

Jan 5, 2016

Iowa State University’s Jack Trice Stadium and Drake University’s Johnny Bright Field are memorials to two African American football players whose college careers ended tragically and prematurely due to violence on the field. 

"For better or for worse, sport has tremendous power in this country."

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe revisits the stories of these players and the lesser known story of Ozzie Simmons, who played for the University of Iowa in the 1930s.

She talks with Jaime Schultz, the author of Moments of Impact: Injury, Racialized Memory, and Reconciliation in College Football. They talk about how society has forgotten and remembered these players, as well as the role sports has played in the racial bias and tension experienced in America in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Schultz says that Trice, Simmons, and Bright paved the way for the players that followed them.

Drake University player Johnny Bright was violently assaulted by opponent Wilbanks Smith during a football game held in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (1951)
Credit A Meyers 91 / Flickr

“If we look at the University of Missouri, there were students protesting against these micro-aggressions, some of the racial tensions on campus, but it’s not until football players got involved that the president actually resigned, that the country paid attention to what was going on,” she says. “For better or for worse, sport has tremendous power in this country.”

Also joining the conversation are Ray Manning, who played football with the Hawkeyes from 1967-1970 and Tom Kroeschell, the program director for Cyclones.tv and former ISU athletics department director.

Although Manning went to school a few decades after Trice and Simmons, he still faced some of the same stereotypes, being a black student athlete in the Civil Rights era. He was once asked in a physics class whether he was lost.

“Those stereotypes were there, and that was tough. You had to have some type of character and will to really fight through all of that. A lot of black athletes did, and they still do. We’re not just gladiators,” says Manning. “I feel like I’m riding on the shoulder of Jack and Ozzie. It was these guys who fought through those times that actually brought us here.”