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INVISIBLE MEN
Daniel Coyle
December 15, 2003
In the 1930s, when black players were barred from the NFL, an enterprising former halfback joined with a numbers kingpin to create a powerful team in Harlem
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December 15, 2003

Invisible Men

In the 1930s, when black players were barred from the NFL, an enterprising former halfback joined with a numbers kingpin to create a powerful team in Harlem

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Later Harding's speech would be described as a "verbal bombshell." But at the beginning it was just Harding's clear, loud voice telling the story of a game and the men who played it. A voice that told about Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson, about Follis and Slater and Inky Williams, about George Marshall and Joe Lillard and the color line, and about the sacrifices and ambitions of black World War II veterans who had risked and given their lives in a much greater game. A voice with power and rhythm and truth, not singing spirituals anymore, but singing all the same.

There was a silence when he finished. Then someone asked to speak: Charles Walsh, the Rams' general manager. There were still legalities to discuss, but on that afternoon, Walsh said what Pollard, Lillard and the Brown Bombers had been waiting more than a decade to hear. There would be tryouts that summer, Walsh said. All football players would be welcome.

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