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Ground Breakers
ALEXANDER WOLFF
November 07, 2005
Long after Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier in baseball, these Southern college football pioneers desegregated a more violent sport, in a more violent place, at a more violent time
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November 07, 2005

Ground Breakers

Long after Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier in baseball, these Southern college football pioneers desegregated a more violent sport, in a more violent place, at a more violent time

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"Fishman would do those things," says Hill, who after a long career in business now is a fund-raiser for the Maryland athletic department. "But if anyone was going to pay for them, it was me. I probably think about all this more now than I did at the time. I was just trying to play football."

That summer he had waded through the Reflecting Pool during Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. He often socialized at nearby Howard, home then to civil rights activists Stokley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. One day the two approached Hill, urging him to join the movement. "I told them that the best way I could help was by playing football, not by staging a sit-in," Hill says. "Rap said, 'Are you scared?' And I snapped right back at him. Stokley stepped between us and said, 'I think Darryl's right.'"

At home, even Maryland fans remained cool to Hill--or did until unbeaten Air Force came through College Park to play the winless Terps five games into his first season. On the game's final play, with the score tied and Maryland at midfield, Hill hauled in a pass on a crossing pattern, then dodged several tackles before carrying a defensive back over the goal line with one last lunge. "I hadn't been booed at our games, but there was a little edge you could feel," says Hill. "Perceptions changed after that."

But not universally. Earlier this year Hill sat for an ABC Sports camera crew that had brought along a copy of the school yearbook from his debut varsity season. Paging through it, Hill noticed for the first time: Though he had led the Terps in receiving and kickoff returns, the pages on the football team included no mention of him. Nor was he in the team picture. Someone on the yearbook staff had simply used the photo from the previous year.

Where Darryl Hill could at least count on the support of most of his teammates, it took Jerry LeVias, the first black scholarship player in the Southwest Conference, much of his career at Southern Methodist to win even that. One player spit in his face during a practice in 1965, his freshman season. Students scrambled to avoid having to sit next to him in class, and student trainers refused to tape his ankles.

The parents of his first roommate threatened to withdraw their son from school; his second moved out after concluding that his social life was being adversely affected by LeVias's race. From then on LeVias lived alone. He quickly learned to linger on the practice field so he wouldn't have to watch the shower stalls empty as soon as he entered them. As a sophomore LeVias became an instant, off-the-charts star, and he was the Mustang most likely to be acclaimed by the media after a victory. "And then," he says, "I was the skunk in the middle of the room."

He would spend Saturday nights riding along with a school janitor named Leon who moonlighted as a cab driver. The pimps and night owls Leon drove around Dallas became LeVias's chaperones, determined that he not get into mischief that might compromise his future. In the wee hours of Sunday mornings Leon would drop LeVias off at his aunt's house in southwestern Dallas, where her attentions would fortify him for another week.

LeVias had had no idea what awaited him when he arrived from segregated Beaumont, Texas, with a copy of the New Testament in his pocket. SMU coach Hayden Fry had signed him largely because of the verdict of Jerry's devout grandmother, who, after meeting Fry, told her grandson, "There's something godly about that man." Says LeVias, "We never did talk about breaking barriers. It says something about fate and faith--that's how I went to SMU."

At one point in LeVias's recruitment his father, Charlie, asked where Southern Methodist was. Told it was in Dallas, he said, "They shot the president there. What they gonna do to my boy?"

Essentially anything they wanted to. At 5'8" and 160 pounds, deployed on the flanks and on returns, LeVias was easy to target. LeVias met often with Fry to unburden himself of the abuse he took, always late at night because his coach didn't want other players to think LeVias was being coddled. Over and over Fry incanted a West Texasism: "If you don't want 'em to get your goat, don't let 'em know where it's hid." LeVias had developed an understanding of Fry's own predicament one day when, waiting outside the coach's office, he overheard a booster say, "If you let that nigger play, I'll never give another dime."

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