But Evans was less than successful with two players. One was a black halfback from Jordan Sellers, Larry Matkins; the other was the team's white quarterback, Fred Long, who had been one of Frye's stars. There is a picture of Larry Matkins in the 1969 Jordan Sellers yearbook. It shows a lean, intense black youth with a completely shaven head sweeping by the outstretched arms of a would-be tackier. As a 5'10", 175-pound sophomore, Matkins was considered one of the best prospects in the South. It was reported that the University of Alabama was interested in him. He was 15 years old. In 1970 he was elected a Williams co-captain, along with a white player, David Coleman, and he was expected to carry the team. But Matkins was to have a mediocre year. He was Evans' biggest disappointment. The coach said of him, "I see so much of myself in that boy and I want him to excel so bad it hurts." To bring out the best in Matkins, Evans was unmerciful with him in practice. If Matkins gained 20 yards on a run, Evans berated him for not gaining 30. Many whites felt Evans was expecting too much of the boy, who was now competing against more efficient defenses than he had at Sellers. Evans could not see this. He said: "Matkins' difficulty, among other things, is that girl of his."
The girl was a pretty, black cheerleader who had been going steady with Matkins since he had arrived at Williams from Sellers. Evans' complaint was that the girl had been trying "to act white, and she's trying to get Matkins to do the same thing." One day Evans caught the pair cuddled in each other's arms (a popular stance among white Williams couples) in the hallway at a time when Matkins was supposed to be at practice. When Evans told the halfback to go to his office, the girl said, "He's with me now." Evans was furious. "Well, he may be with you permanent," he declared, and left. Matkins' other difficulty was that he had always looked up to Evans in a fatherly way, and at Williams the coach was not able to devote as much attention to his star player. He was often aloof with the boy, which confused him. "I couldn't spend as much time with him as I did at Sellers," said Evans, "because the whites would think I was playing favorites. But I don't know whether Larry understood this or not."
The problem with Freddy Long was more touchy. Long was a stocky youngster with a perpetually dazed, open-mouthed expression. Thanks to Frye's constant badgering, Long had produced startling offensive performances during the previous year. But he did this by calling hardly a play at the line of scrimmage himself; he was simply acting as his coach's alter ego. During the 1970 season Jerome Evans failed to get the same performances from Freddy Long. In fact, without Frye's hassling, Long seemed unable to function in the most elementary manner. When Evans gave him the freedom to call most of the plays, Long became confused. He would drop back for a pass, see a man clear and then hesitate for fear his pass might be intercepted. Then, with opposing linemen bearing down on him, he would begin scrambling in all directions before finally being tackled for a huge loss. When he got up from the tackle, always with an agonizing slowness, he would glance over at Evans, as if awaiting instruction. Evans did not want to have to call plays. He wanted his quarterbacks to be independent. But only when he began to call the team's plays did Long's performance improve.
Evans could not bench the quarterback, since Long retained a reputation as a star from the previous year. The alternative was to have a serious talk with the boy. Evans shunned this course of action for a number of games. He did not want to impose himself on the boy, for one thing, and for another, he did not particularly like Freddy Long. After one game in which Long had kicked three field goals, the boy had shaken hands with each assistant coach until he reached Evans' outstretched hand, which he avoided. Evans said nothing. Nor did Evans complain that although most quarterbacks stand beside their coach on the sidelines, it was Long's habit to sit as far away from Evans as possible. If Evans wanted him he would have to call for him two or three times before Long would move toward him.
Evans finally decided on a confrontation. He exhorted the quarterback to take more charge of the situation on the field. Long nodded. Evans suggested he speak up in the pregame pep talks and team meetings. Long nodded again. Evans said a few more things and then allowed him to leave. The coach felt relieved to be rid of the boy but dissatisfied. It was partly his own fault, Evans thought. But he wondered just how he was supposed to deal with people he felt truly hated him.
By his very nature, Evans muted antagonisms and muffled anxieties, so that the team as a whole had no complaints against him. And because both blacks and whites accepted their coach, they learned to accept one another. But this acceptance, although amicable, was precarious at best. It boiled down to a grudging realization by both blacks and whites that if they wanted the team to be successful they had to accommodate themselves to one another's individuality. This was nothing new for blacks, who long before had learned to accommodate themselves to the white world. But it was a new and startling realization for whites. For the first time, they had to acknowledge the existence of blacks, with that existence being as equal and as deserved as their own. Whites called no one "boy" and made blacks the butt of few jokes. They made a point of avoiding criticism; when a black player dropped an easy pass nothing would be said.
This stiff sense of acceptance was mirrored in the relationships of the team's integrated cheerleading squad. (By now there were nine whites and five blacks on the squad.) The cheerleaders took their cue from the football players, many of whom were boyfriends. The girls formed friendly if not affectionate relationships in a way only girls can—smiling, breathless, squealing, polite—with members of their own sex they do not particularly like or trust.
Any difficulties the two races encountered seemed more rooted in life-styles than in race. The black girls seemed bewildered by the importance the whites attached to cheerleading. For the blacks, cheerleading was a small part of their lives, an end in itself, something to be enjoyed for the moment because it would lead to nothing else. They did not see the social relations of things, one to another, because for so long blacks had been denied the results of their acts or abilities. For example, being an intelligent black in Burlington in no way guaranteed a man a job commensurate with his abilities, as it did a white. So, for the same reason, the black cheerleaders viewed cheerleading solely as a casual endeavor, not a step forward—or upward.
The whites, on the other hand, were extremely conscious of the ties between things. Cheerleading, just like athletic talent, beauty and intelligence, could be extremely valuable to them in later years. It might lead to a successful marriage, a career and so on. For this reason the whites treated cheerleading with a reverence that seemed disproportionate to the blacks. The whites had thought the 1969 riot had been started because of the blacks' desire to become cheerleaders. If so, why were the black girls now cutting practice and not fulfilling their squad responsibilities? The answer lay not in the blacks' desire to be cheerleaders, but in their wish to have a part of anything they felt whites attached importance to, as if that thing had some mysterious and hidden value that would be revealed to them once they possessed it. They accepted its importance completely on the testimony of whites. But once they possessed it, the black girls began to wonder what was so special about this thing they now had?
The superficial acceptance black and white football players, coaches and cheerleaders shared for one another also affected the relationships of the Williams students, teachers and parents and citizens of Burlington. They accepted one another because they all accepted Jerome Evans, who had consciously presented a low profile that had made him palatable to the most hardened segregationists. Whatever else even the hardcore segregationists felt toward him, they were forced to admit he was, to use their toughest phrase, "a decent nigger." Evans achieved this by refusing to force himself on anyone. He avoided trouble. If he saw parents or teachers who wanted nothing to do with him, he did not burden them with unnecessary smiles or pleasantries. But neither was he critical of them.