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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 141

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This is the grave of Ernie Davis.

Born in 1939 in New Salem, Pennsylvania, Davis grew up in Elmira, New York, where he became a major prep star in baseball, basketball, and football. He attended Syracuse University because he wanted to follow in Jim Brown’s footsteps. And boy did he. He led the Orangemen to the 1959 national championship by beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl. At the awards banquet after, Davis and the few other black players on the team had to leave before the meal started so as to not violate Dallas’ segregation ordinance. His coaches did nothing about it.

In 1961, although the team was only 8-3, Davis won the Heisman Trophy, the first African-American to do so. He was then the #1 draft pick in 1962 by the Washington Racist Insignias. Their owner, the detestable George Preston Marshall, was a hard core segregationist who openly catered to his southern fan base by keeping his team lily white. He only agreed to draft Davis because Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall told Marshall that the government would revoke the lease of the team’s stadium, on federal land, if he did not integrate. So he agreed to draft Davis. Davis refused to play for the racist and a trade to Cleveland was managed. But shortly after Davis signed his contract, the largest rookie contract to that time, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Art Modell, no one’s favorite human being except possibly in Baltimore, wanted Davis to play anyway. By the time the season started, the leukemia was in remission and Modell demanded that Davis play. Coach Paul Brown, who had engineered the trade without even telling Modell, refused, arguing that it would hurt the team’s morale to let an obviously sick man play. Modell fired Brown.

Sadly, the leukemia came back and Davis died on May 18, 1863 without ever playing in the NFL.

Ernie Davis is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York.

Also, it’s college football season! I will be at the Oregon-Southern Utah game. I know, only the most compelling matchup in college football history.

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