NOTE: As a Detroit Tigers and Mangum fan, this is my letter to Tom Selleck, admittedly a bit tongue in cheek. The facts vs. fiction I present, though, tell the true story of college football integration’s pioneers in the 1960s. College football integration was fait accompli by 1970, thanks to the price paid by true pioneers. They knocked down the door. Alabama coach Bear Bryant didn’t open the door. He was pointed to it after coaching segregated teams at four schools for 26 years and only then did he finally walk through it. Crediting Bryant and USC coach John McKay for the 1970 USC-Alabama game as saviors is a trope that denies the role of Black players, Black southern coaches who steered players to Michigan State because they trusted Duffy Daugherty. Oh, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had something to do with it, too. He did more for Civil Rights dating to the mid-1950s than Sam Cunningham did in one 1970 game that wasn’t televised. The myths of Sam Cunningham’s impact weren’t crafted until 20 years after the game was played, but the spin doctors succeeded at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers.
I’ll put my research on 1960s college football integration up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
Why do I tell this story so much? Ken Burns’ advice to me about challenging myths, “Just keep plowing ahead.”
Letter to Tom Selleck
Re: Misleading 2013 Showtime film, “Against the Tide.”
I’m assuming heartstrings tugged at you as a USC alumnus – basketball and baseball player – when you agreed to narrate the 2013 Showtime film, “Against the Tide.” It’s perfectly understandable, but the misleading tale also is regrettable.
Allow me to explain why.
Please, with all due respect, the next time you’re asked to tell an unvetted college football integration story, utilize story editors from your TV and film career. After all, story editors played a vital role in the authenticity of your 1980s hit TV series, “Magnum P.I.”
Your show about Vietnam veterans returning home was ahead of its time. Maintaining authenticity balanced the overall plots around the mischief of the characters. When you decided Magnum was the type person who wore a baseball cap, naturally, you chose your boyhood team with the Old English D. You even included Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker in an episode.
You may need a Twitter account to view the video link below of Magnum talking at a bar with Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. When Magnum laments the Tigers game is sold out, they leave Magnum choice tickets between home and first. Magnum, who fails to recognize them, asks where they’ll be, and they say between first and third.
That kind of authenticity was lacking in “Against the Tide.” Your story editors could have pointed out the red flags.
The folklore portraying the 1970 USC-Alabama game as a tipping point to college football integration doesn’t match up with the facts. The false narrative, based solely on conjecture of what Alabama coach Bear Bryant sycophants “think” Bryant was “thinking” about scheduling the game, obfuscates Bryant’s track record as a segregationist.
Six Southeastern Conference schools – and most of the major southern programs – integrated before Alabama. It embellishes USC’s role. The school wasn’t even a leader in its own city. USC followed an unwritten quota in the 1960s limiting Black athletes to a half-dozen or so. UCLA athletics were always ahead of USC in Civil Rights.
If you don’t want to believe me – you no doubt have others in your ear — listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David Halberstam. In a 2002, he wrote an article for ESPN’s website: “… the Bear was very late to the dance, especially because people are always talking about football coaches as leaders. In this case, he did not lead very well.”
You also can ask Michigan State All-American fullback Bob Apisa, who appeared in six Magnum P.I. episodes. Apisa, the first Samoan All-America in 1965 and 1966, played for Spartans coach Duffy Daugherty, who assembled college football’s first fully integrated rosters in the 1960s.
Michigan State’s success helped open doors in the South for players such as Bob Grant, Wake Forest, 1964; Jerry LeVias, SMU, 1965; Wilbur Hackett, Kentucky, 1967; Lester McClain, Tennessee, 1967 and James Owens, Auburn, 1969. There are many more examples.
The facts have been hiding in plain sight, but, unfortunately, your voice’s narration – which provides a veneer of credibility to the storyline — contributes to spreading the myth. That’s the problem with your participation.
And, as you and your fans know, Thomas Magnum — Annapolis graduate, Vietnam veteran and Tigers fan — wouldn’t knowingly mislead people at the expense of authentic pioneers.
Here are four examples – I may point out many more in the future – of a lack story editing in the script you read:
— 1) YOU AT 17:53 MARK: “It wasn’t as if Bear Bryant and Alabama stood alone. Nearly all of the SEC schools were equally slow to integrate.”
FACT-CHECK: Wrong. By the 1970 season, Alabama football was the seventh of 10 Southeastern Conference’s members to include a Black player. Also, 33 of 37 (89 percent) major southern programs were desegregated.
— 2) YOU AT 1:33: “Shortly after the 1969 season, the NCAA added another game to the 1970 college football schedule. Most of the big-time programs saw that game as an easy win or easy money. But Alabama’s coach, Bear Bryant, may have seen something different – an opportunity.”
FACT-CHECK: Wrong, on more than one count.
First, “opportunity” was explained later as Bryant “secretly” scheduling USC as a game to lose before his hometown crowd. That speculation overlooks a 1969 loss against integrated SEC rival Tennessee, a 41-14 embarrassment at Legion Field. The Volunteers’ romp was sparked by African American linebacker Jackie Walker’s early touchdown interception return. Tennessee went on to win the SEC title.
Second, among the schools adding an 11th game to open 1970 was No. 4-ranked Arkansas. The Razorbacks were a national title contender, but they didn’t schedule a cupcake to open the season. Arkansas lost to No. 10 Stanford and quarterback Jim Plunkett – the eventual Heisman Trophy winner — at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, 34-28.
Third, the premise of an integrated team playing in the South ignored Michigan State traveled to segregated North Carolina in 1964 as well as USC at segregated Texas in 1966. There were other examples, including SMU’s integrated roster – led by All-American receiver Jerry LeVias scoring eight points — winning at Auburn in 1968. Auburn, of course, is just down the road from Legion Field.
— 3) YOU AT 2:01: “That winter the Bear secretly met with his close friend, USC’s coach John McKay, and scheduled a game that for the first time was to bring a fully integrated college football team into the Deep South to face the all-white Crimson Tide.”
FACK-CHECK: Wrong. A search of the 1970 Los Angeles Times archives reveal Bryant and McKay discussed the 11th game as they played golf in Palm Springs while awaiting the NCAA offseason ruling. Upon passage on January 11, 1970, Sports Illustrated reported McKay called Bryant to finalize their 11th game plans. They never discussed meeting in a airport hospitality room as portrayed in the film by McKay sycophants.
— 4) YOU AT 2:22: “For reasons that still endure today, that one night might well be remembered as the single most significant in the career of Paul “Bear” Bryant, Alabama’s legendary Hall of Fame coach.”
FACT-CHECK: Wrong. There was no mention of the 1970 game’s racial impact in books that both coaches published in 1974: “Bear” and “McKay: A Coach’s Life.” Not to mention nothing in post-game stories. Also, a fawning 5,100-word Time magazine cover story on Bryant published in 1980 doesn’t mention a single word about the 1970 game.
Instead, that “one night” should be remembered as a fraud successfully perpetrated upon college football lore. The true 1960s pioneers won’t receive just due until that day is recognized for it what it is – a myth crafted 20 years after the game and successfully entrenched the past 30 years. However, that requires the national media regurgitating the tale for 30 years to admit it was duped. It doesn’t seem inclined to look any closer.
Mr. Selleck, we’re only at the 2:22 mark of a 45-minute film but that’s enough for now. I’ll follow-up with another letter.
I can send you my book, “RAYE OF LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the Integration of College Football.” A script based on the book is being shopped in Hollywood. I also can send you my upcoming book, “THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s.”
Unless, that is, you get a chance to talk to Bob Apisa and his Michigan State teammates. Or Wake Forest’s Bob Grant or SMU’s Jerry LeVias or Kentucky’s Wilbur Hackett or West Point’s Gary Steele or Houston’s Warren McVea and Elmo Wright or Tennessee’s Lester McClain … or so many other true pioneers that opened doors while paying a price in the 1960s.
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II
Click here for Part III
Tom Shanahan is an author, award-winning writer and historian focused on college football integration. He is the author of “Raye of Light” and an upcoming second book, “The Right Thing to Do.” His story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and segregation was awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. Visit his website, TomShanahan.Report.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055.
Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read a summary.
Click here for my NIL partners.
Click here to purchase Raye of Light.
RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy