The College Football Hall of Fame announced the inductees for its 2014 class today. Sixteen former players or coaches are included in this year's class. Names such as former Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas and former TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson make up a list of some impressive people from college football's past. But with 81 names on this years ballot, that means there's plenty of griping going on right now about who got "screwed", "shafted" and "snubbed" by the Hall of Fame this year.
While I was driving around Columbus today I listened to one of those arguments as the local jock talk radio personalities bemoaned the absence of Jim Tressel's name from the list of inductees. Replace Tressel with the name of a former coach or player from your local team that was on the ballot and you've likely heard the same exact bit today. There will be countless columns written about how these names were screwed, about the great crime that it is to not elect them this year.
CFB Hall of Fame
CFB Hall of Fame
But all of those radio arguments, angry callers, and hot sports takes will miss sight of the true crime here. While they're all busy whining about the fact that their favorite former star player/coach will have to wait another year or two to get in, there's one former player who isn't even eligible to have his name on the ballot, let alone be inducted in, and all because he played in a time where prejudice superseded accomplishments.
From 1969 to 1971 Charles "Chuck" Ealey was arguably the best quarterback in college football. The Portsmouth, Ohio native led the Toledo Rockets to a perfect 35-0 record during his three years as a starter, finishing in the Top 20 nationally in all three seasons. He led the Rockets to three Tangerine Bowl victories, and was the MVP of each of them. He achieved all of this while running an offense that whooped opponents by an average margin of 23 points a game.
Yet more than four decades after Ealey accomplished a career that will likely never be matched by an FBS quarterback, he is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He's not even eligible to be considered for it. Ealey's name has never appeared on a ballot for the 63-year-old shrine. It likely never will.
That's because Ealey, a black man, is still a victim of prejudices that kept the player who never lost a game as a high school or college quarterback from ever playing in the NFL. Ealey isn't in the College Football Hall of Fame because he was a black quarterback in America in the late 1960s. Of course, that's not how the rule that excludes' his membership words it; the emphasis is theirs:
FIRST AND FOREMOST, A PLAYER MUST HAVE RECEIVED FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA RECOGNITION BY A SELECTOR RECOGNIZED BY THE NCAA AND UTILIZED TO COMPRISE THEIR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICA TEAMS.
As we pointed out last year, Ealey was a first team All-American in 1971, but not by a selector used to name the consensus All-American teams. The AP did name him a third team All-American, behind a first-teamer who threw 17 touchdowns to 21 interceptions for a team that went 4-7, and a second-teamer who threw for 21 touchdowns to 13 picks for a 9-2 team. For comparison's sake Ealey threw 15 touchdowns to 13 picks that year, but led the Rockets to a 12-0 record, a Tangerine Bowl win, and finished ranked No. 14 in the nation.
Obviously there are a variety of reasons he could have been passed over by the bigger organizations, but its hard to ignore one of the more prominent reasons: Ealey, a black quarterback, wasn't as respected as his white peers. The fact that the ignorance, and lack of respect he was shown by the national media in the late 1960s and early 1970s is still impacting his legacy today is shameful.
Of course Ealey's story isn't entirely unique. There are countless players affected by these rules which are defined by an era when bigotry ran rampant, and that is the real tragedy of the College Football Hall of Fame.