- Moments of Impact: Injury, Racialized Memory, and Reconciliation in College Football by Jaime Schultz
In 1924, Iowa State University football player Jack Trice died of injuries he sustained in a game against the University of Minnesota. In 1934, University of Iowa football player Ozzie Simmons suffered significant injuries in a game against Minnesota. In 1951, Drake University football player Johnny Bright suffered major injuries in a game against what [End Page 125] is now Oklahoma State University, including breaking his jaw, ending his stellar college football career.
Three football players at Iowa universities. Three major injuries. But what is arguably the most salient connecting rod between these three stories? Trice, Simmons, and Bright were all African Americans playing in an era of racial hostility and in many parts of the country—including those of some of the opponents these Iowa universities played—segregation either by law or by custom.
In this fine book, Jaime Schultz, an associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State, explores these three events, placing them within a number of important historical contexts, including the histories of college football, race relations, and memory. For while the obvious conclusion about these three events is that they were clear and present examples of racism manifesting in violence against black football players in an era in which African Americans were still an exception on the gridiron, Schultz notes that this was not always the interpretation at the time. Even if race and racism were clearly embedded in the events, there were also other issues at play for contemporary observers, black and white. Especially the earlier two events took place within a context of a college-football environment that was worrisomely violent, with regular occurrences of dirty play tainting the game.
Thus, while it was not implausible that the three men were targeted for especially violent treatment on the field because of their race, there is no real evidence that racism played a role in the injuries the men sustained. They may have been targeted because they were threatening players, irrespective of their race. Or they may have been unfortunate victims of ruthless physicality during an era when college football, though not as deadly as it had been in the first decade of the twentieth century, was still quite brutal.
Nonetheless, Trice’s racial identity, for example, became more than incidental as the years passed, especially as a movement emerged to have the football facility named after him. In an era of campus unrest in the 1970s, this movement went nowhere, but, by 1984, the university dedicated Jack Trice Field at Cyclone Stadium. In 1997, university officials dedicated Jack Trice Stadium, at the time the only NCAA Division I football facility named after an African American athlete. At least in part, this tribute allowed the university to present itself as having been ahead of its time when it came to race relations. Trice’s death may or may not have been racialized. His commemorations certainly were.
Similarly in the case of Simmons, in order to defuse percolating hostilities, Minnesota’s Governor Floyd B. Olson approached Governor Herring of Iowa with a friendly wager over the 1935 Iowa–Minnesota football game with the states’ respective “prized hogs” at stake. That bet has become an enduring tradition in the form of the annual porcine-inspired “Floyd of Rosedale” trophy that goes to the winner of the annual clash between the two teams. In the process, Ozzie Simmons largely disappeared.
Of the three, the 1951 Bright incident is by far the most famous, in no small part because it was the most thoroughly documented. Bright, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was quite clearly smashed in the face multiple times in a game against Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University). Unlike the Trice and Simmons incidents, the assaults against Bright took place in a post–World War II climate at least somewhat more sensitive to questions of race. But more importantly, photographers (who won the Pulitzer Prize for their work on that...