Mavericks, Money and Men (Temple, 2016)
Charles K Ross
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Plenty of books have dealt with the American Football League, including overviews such as The Other League or Going Long, and more focused titles like Ten-Gallon War and Rockin’ The Rockpile. Charles K Ross’s book, Mavericks, Money and Men, examines the AFL and race – an angle that has not been dealt with in this depth before. It’s a relevant title because racial tensions remain an issue in the modern NFL.
When the AFL kicked off in 1960, the NFL was still not fully integrated. The NFL had operated an informal ban on black players between 1933 and 1946 and though most teams had integrated in the ensuing years, black players were still few, and one team – Washington, was still a whites-only club. In its determination to compete, the AFL simply wanted the best players, regardless of colour, and this represented an opportunity for black players.
Over the decade in which it competed against the AFL for players, the NFL had to be more open to black players – there was suddenly less talent to go around. When the two leagues finally merged, in 1970, the racial make-up of the NFL was changed forever.
Ross, who is Director of African American Studies and Professor of History at the University of Mississippi, looks at some of the significant events that happened during the lifetime of the AFL that served to chip away at racism in football. Among them, he considers the role of segregation in the demise of the Dallas Texans, the boycott of the 1965 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans and the dawn of the era of black quarterbacks.
Inevitably, some of the stories here have been covered in other titles but there is a good amount of material here that is either new or which takes on new significance when considered in the context of football and race. For example, Joe Namath’s habit of sitting at all-black tables in the Jets’ canteen is a nice anecdote when it appears in Paul Zimmerman’s The Last Season of Weeb Ewbank, but here it takes its place as part of a growing movement for change.
Ross covers the key moments in the history of the league too – the title games, big players and the league politics. Though everything is viewed through a racial lens, there is enough context for the book to be readable by someone who knows nothing about the AFL. For those who do know the history, this will shed light on a little-considered aspect of it.
As Ross writes, the AFL “brought more than the names of players on the backs of jerseys, the game clock as the official clock, or even the eventual use of the two-point conversion. The AFL served as an example to the NFL that football was changing.”
The change that the AFL set in motion is still underway today.