Eddie Robinson's legacy lives onBy Kevin McGuire, examiner.com
February 15, 2010 (Reprinted with permission)
To say that Eddie Robinson is a coaching icon is a bit of an understatement. Aside from coaching Grambling State from 1941 to 1997 and retiring with the most coaching victories in college football with 408, 13 SWAC championships and nine black college football national championships, what makes Robinson a legend is how he is remembered by more than 200 of his former players who went on to play in the NFL including Pro Football Hall of Fame members Buck Buchanan, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner. Over the weekend Grambling State opened The Eddie G. Robinson Museum on what would have been the coaching legend's 91st birthday.
Robinson's impact, like many of the great football coaches in the game's history, is felt far beyond the confines of a football field on Saturday afternoons. For Robinson the game was about the players and not himself. The Jackson, Louisiana, native was a pioneer for African-Americans from his younger days up until April 3, 1997 when he passed away, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Aside from being the first college football coach to eclipse the 400-victory mark (St. John's John Gagliardi has since passed Robinson), Robinson has another lists of firsts and accomplishments to his name.
He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek fraternity for African Americans. The son of a sharecropper and a domestic worker, Robinson went on to graduate high school in 1937, and earned a bachelor's degree from Leland College and a Master's degree from Iowa in 1954. His coaching career at Grambling got underway in 1941.
The successful career of Robinson followed the progress of the Civil Rights movement every step of the way. A recently released biography sums it up best in the title. Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" by Denny Dressman chronicles the life of Robinson and connects it with the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps there is no better way to learn about the Civil Rights struggle than through the life of Robinson.
Growing up in the Jim Crow Era in the segregated deep south of the country, Robinson had to endure many battles with his family and at times even with his football team. When Robinson became head coach at Grambling, segregation was still the law in Louisiana but he did not let that deter him from spreading the belief that anyone and everyone could be successful in the United States. At a time when African Americans were uniting to rally for Civil Rights, Robinson would preach to his players that they can make their own decisions but in order for them to make the biggest difference in the movement they should focus on earning their education at Grambling and let the rest of the movement play out. It was Robinson's belief that, if he could lead his players to earn their education, they could make a greater difference in the world as educated leaders rather than possibly get in trouble in violent protests or rallies or find themselves being bullied by those who wished to hold back the Civil Rights movement by any means necessary.
And if you thought Robinson's impact was limited just to football players at Grambling, guess again.
During his career at Grambling Robinson also took jobs as a high school teacher at Grambling High School and he would coach the girls basketball team there during World War II. It is sometimes said that a good coach could coach any sport. The best example of that philosophy being true is Robinson, who guided that girls basketball team to within one point of the state championship. And it did not end there for Robinson. He also coached the boys basketball (winning 288 games) and baseball teams, directed the band, and was in charge of the cheerleading squad. His budget? $46.
The opening of The Eddie G. Robinson Museum and the biographical release by Dressman should serve as valuable reminders to the impact Robinson had on not just college football, but all of sports and the Civil Rights movement. Because of Robinson the world of professional football was opened up to African-Americans. Paul "Tank" Younger and James "Shack" Harris, each from Grambling, became pioneers for African-Americans in the world of professional football. Younger became the first professional football player in the NFL from what is now referred to as a historically black college or university. He did this just two years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Younger was a fullback and linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams. Harris was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the same year as O.J. Simpson. Though he was not the first black quarterback to start a game in the NFL (Marlin Briscoe, Denver Broncos in 1968), he was the first to start a season at quarterback.
Over the next two college football seasons we can expect to hear more about Robinson's coaching career. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is 14 wins away from tying Robinson's 408 career victories entering the 2010 season. If Paterno stays on the sideline for two more seasons he should pass Robinson. Watching Paterno close in on Robinson should bring more attention to one of the game's finest leaders.
To learn more about Eddie Robinson visit the official website for The Eddie G. Robinson Museum and check out Eddie Robinson "...he was the Martin Luther King of football" by Denny Dressman, published by ComServ Books LLC.
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