How Michigan State Football Changed the Game During Segregation

EAST LANSING, history month is coming to an end, and all month we’ve been spotlighting inspiring stories, and there’s a story from the world of college sports that you may not know about.

Currently, college football is very different from the college football of the 1960s.

“In the south, black players couldn’t play the game at this level,” said the former MSU linebacker Darien Harris. “They weren’t allowed in stadiums, weren’t allowed on campus.”

In the segregated south, exceptional black athletes have been denied access to play in their home countries.

“Schools that dominate the national scene now, those schools were closed to players like my dad (Eugene Washington),” said filmmaker Maya Washington.

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Eugene Washington was a man who grew up in Texas, went to a separate high school, and was recruited by Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty.

“This opportunity to come out of segregation was a very different world,” Maya Washington said. “These are things that weren’t available to the parents’ and grandparents’ generation during the segregation in the south.”

So how did Daugherty find Eugene Washington, Bubba Smith, Jimmy Raye and others?

It started with MSU President John Hannah, who was also on the Civil Rights Commission. Daugherty networked and recruited from the south, something no other coach was doing at the time.

“It didn’t happen anywhere else in the country,” Maya Washington said. “Between 1963 and 1966 was the peak time when Duffy Daugherty’s recruiting pipeline really peaked.”

In 1966, there were an unprecedented 20 black players on MSU’s roster. That year, the No. 2-ranked Spartans played Notre Dame for a national championship. 33 million viewers saw black athletes in the “game of the century” changing the game. MSU won its second consecutive national championship.

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“Breaked across the country,” Harris said. “The general fact that you better do it, otherwise you will be beaten every year. “

Harris is now Director of Player Engagement. He says MSU’s history in integrating college football is shared, discussed and passed on. It’s something that current head coach Mel Tucker is very important to internally and externally.

“We want to make sure we tell the stories and tell the story all year long,” Harris said. “Not just 28 days of February. It’s 365 days a year.

Washington wrote a book and documentary about his father and his teammates titled “Across the Shores of Red Cedar”; These 20 brave athletes proved they could compete and luckily they got that opportunity at Michigan State University.

“It was important at that time,” Washington said. “How you can make a difference. How being more inclusive can not only change your own destiny, but how it can change others, but also change what is possible for future generations.

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Daugherty’s recruits included several All-Americans, and in the 1967 NFL Draft, MSU had the first, second, fifth, and eighth picks. Gene Washington was the eighth pick where he went on to a historic career with the Minnesota Vikings.

Local 4 News encourages you to check out all of our Black History Month coverage, including the Detroit group works to make skiing accessible to everyone.

Read: The oldest black ski club in the country has opened in Detroit

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