Celebrating Chicago Bears African-American History on Juneteenth

Celebrating Chicago Bears African-American History on Juneteenth

As Juneteenth approaches it marks the perfect time to reflect upon the contribution of African-Americans to our nation’s history and culture. The National Football League is certainly one of many arenas where Black America has had a profound impact and the Chicago Bears, the NFL flagship franchise has a very rich history in this regard.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the past and also the present when it comes to black players making an impact both on and off the field with the Chicago Bears. Heading into summer, not much is really expected of the Bears this fall.

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Given what the Monsters of the Midway have achieved over time, it’s disappointing to see them struggling so. They face rather long odds of being a contender in 2020, but they do have a great team captain in Defensive End Akiem Hicks. He has shown the capability, time and time again, to be the leader they need both on and off the field.

In 2018, the Bears became the initial NFL club to maximize the NFL’s then newly created social justice initiative. The team put their money behind the rhetoric, committing $500,000 toward social justice initiatives in the city of Chicago. Just a few weeks later, Mike Singletary, ranked the #15 greatest Chicago Bear of all-time became a leading champion for the cause of clean water.

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Singletary teamed up with Dr. Todd Phillips of The Last Well and his clean water crusade. Two of the top fives names on that list, #1 Walter Payton and #5 Gale Sayers are African-American, and that leads us to perhaps the most well known Chicago Bears contribution to Black History of all. 

In 1967, Sayers and Bears teammate Brian Piccolo became the first interracial roommates in the NFL. 

Sayers’ friendship with Piccolo, his being there for Piccolo as he struggled with cancer, and Piccolo’s being there for Sayers as he rehabilitated from injury was depicted in the made-for-TV film Brian’s Song. It’s impossible not watch movie intently all the way through and not cry at the end.

It was also an African-American who came up with the idea of the two men rooming together and thus breaking down barriers in the league. Sayers credits then-Bears captain and Bennie McRae with first having the idea to room black and white players together. Finally, current University of Illinois (the place with which the Bears’ navy blue and burnt orange official color scheme originated) and former Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith achieved a racial milestone in the NFL as well.

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In 2007 Smith (who has said a lot of poignant and powerful things about current events), led the Bears to the NFC title, and in Super Bowl XLI, Chicago squared off against Tony Dungy’s led Indianapolis Colts. It marked the first Super Bowl where both head coaches were African-Americans.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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