During my summer internship at the Neville, I had the opportunity to work on Delay of Game: Experiences of African American Football Players in Titletown. When first told about the exhibition, I was thrilled to hear of the museum’s plans to explore African American history. But, because Delay of Game centers on the Packers, I worried football would overshadow the stories off the field. Thankfully, I was wrong. Not only did I learn more about the Packers, but also more about the community I grew up in. I found that the African American history of the Packers, and Brown County, reflected wider social histories.
Packers First African American Player
Bob Mann was the first African American Packer to play a regular season game. Recruited in 1950, Mann joined the team just four years after Kenny Washington signed to the Rams in 1946 (One year before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers). Washington was the first black NFL player since 1933.
Packers and Jim Crow
Into the 1960s the Packers continued to integrate football. The team broke black player restrictions and bypassed Jim Crow hotel rules. While there was still much progress to be made in professional sports, Green Bay was at the forefront of player equality. That does not mean that black players had it easy. During his first trip to the South, Willie Wood was subject to discrimination. He was thrown out of a hotel lobby, and a cab, because they were white only. Before making it to his hotel room, Wood was fuming. The treatment that Wood faced was far too common in the black community.
NFL Commissioner Tries to Stop an Interracial Marriage in Green Bay
Lionel Aldridge, however, faced difficulty in Wisconsin. Aldridge wanted to marry his college girlfriend, Vicky, but had to think twice because she was white. Cookie Gilchrist had been blacklisted from the NFL for his interracial marriage, and Aldridge feared he faced the same fate. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle visited Green Bay and attempted to stop the marriage. In 1967, the same year as Loving v. Virginia, Aldridge married Vicky.
Through my internship, I gained museum education and knowledge about my hometown. It is important for people to take the time to learn about their community and the people within. Different people are subjected to different experiences; we all must be aware of that. Not everyone shares the same privileges, as Delay of Game shows. Jordy Nelson sums it up well, “… just because I don’t see it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”
University of Wisconsin