Bill Nunn Jr. never wanted me to tell his story.
Sure, he had changed the history of the National Football League, and he had played a key role in the Steelers winning more Super Bowls than any other team.
But Nunn insisted on deflecting praise to others. The story, he insisted, started before him—and would continue after. He challenged me to write, instead, about the first African Americans who played football.
I ended up doing both.
Nunn’s story started with the Pittsburgh Courier, where his father worked as managing editor. When he came of age, Nunn joined the newspaper too, traveling thousands of miles each fall to compile the Courier’s Black college All-America football teams.
In the process, by focusing on the athletes rather than their skin color, Nunn came to find talent that others overlooked.
That proved strategic for the Steelers. They hired Nunn as a team scout, and he discovered players such as John Stallworth, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Glen Edwards, Sam Davis and many others. They played at small Black colleges, beyond the NFL’s line of sight.
Ultimately, with Nunn’s help, I came to see a broader story too.
The changes he brought about did not stop at the edge of the gridiron. Football helped the United States become a better nation by showing Americans how to cheer for the best players—without blind spots to race or ethnicity.
(Andrew Conte is an author, reporter, and director of Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation. “The Color of Sundays” is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.)
Like us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Pittsburgh-Courier/143866755628836?ref=hl
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier