Skip to content

Permanent Record, NFL Version

Click to enlarge

In August of 1966, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle sent a confidential memo to each team in the league. The memo had been written two weeks earlier by Buddy Young, an executive in the commissioner’s office. And although Rozelle’s cover sheet (shown above) carried the bland subject line of “Player Relations,” Young’s original memo, underneath the cover sheet, had a different subject line: “Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players.”

This memo, which is of major historic significance, has never been made public — until today. I’ve written an article about it for The Undefeated, ESPN’s site devoted to the intersection of sports, race, and culture. It’s one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever worked on, and probably one of the most important. I hope you’ll check it out here.

The memo, incidentally, came my way via longtime reader Tom Jacobsen, who shared it with me after he found it in some old NFL files that he acquired. (As you may recall, I recently wrote about an old stadium uniform brochure that turned up in those same files.) When I was traveling last week, it was to visit Tom and spend some time going through the files with him. We found tons of noteworthy stuff, including some fascinating paperwork regarding Super Bowl I. I’ve written an ESPN piece about that, which will run tomorrow or Saturday. I expect to be writing several more times about the files, both for ESPN and here on the blog, in the weeks and months to come.

But the Buddy Young memo is the big fish. Again, you can read about it here. And here’s a photo of Tom posing with it last week in his Colorado home (click to enlarge):

• • • • •

Naming Wrongs update: We’ve added three new shirts for the Pavilion — Boise State’s basketball arena. They’re available in blue, orange, and grey:

We’ll also have L.A. Coliseum shirts shortly. Still finalizing the design, which will be more than basic type.

These designs are now available in the Naming Wrongs shop. They’re also cross-listed in the Uni Watch shop, where card-carrying members can get 15% off. (If you’re a member and need the discount code, send me a note and I’ll hook you up.) My thanks, as always, for your consideration.

• • • • •

“What’s It Worth?” reminder: In case you missed it last week, I announced a new partnership with Grey Flannel Auctions. If you have a potentially valuable collectible, GFA will appraise it at no charge, and with no obligation. Think of it as an online version of Antiques Roadshow. Full details here.

• • • • •

Beefsteak update: I’m the guest speaker tonight at a beefsteak event taking place at the Museum of Food and Drink in Brooklyn. It had been sold out, but I’m told that four tickets just opened up. Grab ’em fast!

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: A new exhibit at the National Exhibit of the American Indian features everyday objects with Native American imagery, including ’Skins merch (from David Goodfriend). … Despite the impending removal of Chief Wahoo, an Ontario activist wants to continue with his human rights-based legal action against the Indians. … interesting Wahoo perspective from the director of Major League (from Kary Klismet).

Baseball News: Oscar Gamble, known for having MLB’s biggest and best afro back in the 1970s, died yesterday. Here’s a shot of him wearing a Yankees uniform and Royals batting gloves, even though he never played for KC (good spot by Matt Shevin). … More Gamble antics: Here he is wearing Cleveland’s 1972 jersey with a ’73 cap. Maybe a ’73 spring training shot? (Good find by Paul Soter.) … The photo isn’t great, but this shot shows that UNC was wearing tequila sunrise-style jerseys as early as 1978. Also, in the foreground of that shot you can see a batboy with a “CWS Batboy” NOB (from James Gilbert). … All 30 MLB ballparks will have extended netting next season. … Maybe not the best look: George Brett went high-cuffed with no socks at Royals fantasy camp (from @gimmethewooby). … Check out this screen shot of Yanks reliever Ron Davis wearing his initials and uni number — “RD 39” — on the front of his dugout jacket during Game Five of the 1981 ALDS. None of the other Yankees appear to have anything besides the “NY” on their jackets (from Rich Gagliano). … New scoreboard for the Rockies (from Uni Watch alum Mike Chamernik). … Check it out: a Pez-sponsored junior team from 1955. That photo’s on display at the Pez visitor’s center in Connecticut (from Wayne Jones). … Here’s some great footage from a 1950 night game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn (from Jay Jones).

NFL/CFL News: Really fun piece on how “Hut!” became a key part of football signal-calling (NYT link). Highly recommended. … With Chiefs QB Alex Smith reportedly on his way to Washington, Matt Wise notes that Smith — who broke in with the Niners before going to KC — will maintain his unbroken streak of wearing red or burgundy accented by yellow or gold. … Also: There are only two NFL teams with blank nose bumper panels. Smith is leaving one of them and moving to the other one. And since he wears the Vicis helmet, which has a larger bumper panel, that means he’ll still have that big blank space on his forehead area. … Also-also: With Smith going to Washington, three of his last four teams, including his college squad, have had Native American themes (from @Werd_27). … Meanwhile, the Smith trade means Washington QB Kirk Cousins will be playing somewhere else in 2018. ESPN Photoshopped him into a bunch of other NFL uniforms and projected how he might fit in. Scroll through that piece to get the full effect. … The Thursday-night Color Rash program is heading to Fox. … Funny story about Eagles fans who sold or discarded their old Nick Foles jerseys before Carson Wentz’s injury restored Foles to the top of the team’s depth chart. … Bart Alazio was going through some of his grandfather’s stuff and came across some fan giveaways from the first game at Giants Stadium. “Interesting that they gave out replica programs from opening day at the Polo Grounds,” he says. … A giant sign from the Saskatchewan Roughriders old stadium is up for sale (from Wade Heidt). … Several Eagles players wore Mexican wrestling masks during yesterday’s media session (from @PhillyPartTwo). … Good article on NFL rebrandings redesigns before and after the Nike changeover.

Hockey News: Game of Thrones-themed jerseys this Saturday for the Macon Mayhem (from Jeff Vinton). … New uniforms, including a great Jayhawk-crest sweater and a Rangers-knockoff design, for Kansas. … Will Leslie overheard the following last night on Hockey Night in Canada: “Elliotte Friedman stated that Lou Lamoriello (Toronto GM) made rookie Travis Dermott change from his No. 3 (Lou’s old number) to No. 23 – but rookie Justin Holl got called up that same day from the AHL Marlies and was given No. 3. Both rookie defensemen scored their first NHL goals in Wednesday night’s game against the Islanders.” … Interesting piece, including X-ray photos, on how modern equipment has transformed goaltending. … The Golden Knights and the U.S. Army appear to be in the process of settling their trademark feud.

NBA News: Kings C Willie Cauley-Stein has designed a pair of Kings baseball caps. … Two weeks ago we ran an old photo showing James Worthy of the Lakers wearing a NNOB double-zero jersey. Yesterday I heard from Joe McGrath, who said, “I work with James at Spectrum Sports in LA. He’s not sure, but he thinks his regular jersey was stolen that night.”

College Hoops News: The Slippery Rock women’s team had a white-out yesterday, and even coach Bobby McGraw got in on the act (from @CantankerousRex). … Butler and Marquette went black vs. blue last night, while Texas and Texas Tech went burnt orange vs. charcoal (from Andrew Cosentino).

Soccer News: The Colorado Rapids will unveil their new kit on Feb. 8 (from @7_8_9_Orten). … New jersey advertiser for Los Angeles FC (from Ed Zelaski). … Check out Brazilian great Paulo Borges playing for the 1967 Houston Stars at the Astrodome (from @gabehurl). … West Brom will wear Cyrille Regis memorial jerseys on Saturday (from The Boot Room).

Olympics News: Bit of a kerfuffle in Norway, as the national skiing team’s sweater design includes a rune that has recently been claimed by neo-Nazis. “Some say the team shouldn’t use the rune, due to its use by fascists, while others say the country shouldn’t let skinheads claim ownership of any part of Scandinavian culture and heritage,” says R. Scott Rogers. … The Swedish company Craft has created a Nordic skiing suit that reportedly weighs only seven ounces! Additional info here.

Grab Bag: Netherlands field hockey captain Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel has a really compressed NOB (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … The Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture has released a new logo to be used on products made in the state. … Here are some thoughts on the symbolism and messaging behind what people wore at the State of the Union address (NYT link).

Comments (68)

    “All 30 MLB ballparks will have extended netting next season. … Maybe not the best look: George Brett went high-cuffed with no socks at Royals fantasy camp (from @gimmethewooby).”

    If you look closely, he’s actually wearing black ankle socks.

    Esoteric who cares comment, but I think with Dermott being told he had to give up the “3”, while Holl gets it, I suspect it’s because Holl will be quickly sent back down to the minors, so the number will again be available, where the thinking is Dermott has made the big club for good, but Lou wants to reserve “3” for a more vetrean type defenseman – that would be my guess.

    One other comment (a more uni-centric one), the whole issue speaks to how seriously Lou Lamoriello treats the esthetics of sports, which should come as no surprise to any New Jersey Devil fan.

    Yes – I think that is why the Maple Leafs have the really small maker’s mark on the pants now like the Devils. Believe that change is a Lamoriello influence.


    Certainly Lamoriello is entitled to his own personal taste in uni design, but let’s not forget that he was responsible for what was essentially one of the very first BFBS unis in the NHL (a year behind the Minnesota North Stars redesign). Those uniforms lost a lot of character IMO when they went from green to black.

    “The future can’t be predicted with any accuracy, of course…”
    Buddy Young

    But you sure did, Buddy!

    Was that stadium in the UNC Tar Heels ’78 baseball shot the old Durham (Bulls) Athletic Park? Looks more like a minor league stadium than a campus one.

    It might be Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, when the Tar Heels played in the College World Series; note “CWS BAT BOY” in the stands for the event. Also one of the box sections is reserved for “NEBRASKA FURNITURE MART”.

    I think it is Rosenblatt. UNC Baseball’s “First Pitch Dinner” was held last weekend, and the members of the 1978 and 2008 teams were honored (both were CWS teams). Interesting to see all of those empty seats and compare it to the CWS attendance today.

    Not really proofreading, but could my Ticker item say it’s from the U.S./Netherlands field hockey series? It doesn’t currently say what sport it’s from. Thanks.

    Also, I just walked past (I think) a Washington Post Express newsstand and the cover had a Photoshopped Alex Smith wearing No. 11 and a captain’s patch – the ‘Skins No. 11 is currently taken by Terrelle Pryor.

    Excellent story! Anquan Boldin’s quote at the end, in light of what Harry Edwards experienced in the ’80s, definitely underscores the call for action by Kaepernick and other players.

    Did you meet Jim Brown while writing that article, or just speak on the phone? Either way, how was that experience?

    All of the quotes for that story were via telephone.

    Speaking with Jim Brown (which took some doing — not an easy guy to get access to) was fascinating. He had quite a bit to say — far more than I was able to use.

    Very appropriate kickoff for Black History Month 2018, in our Kaepernick-influenced world. Thanks for the article Paul. You did it justice.

    Thanks, Mike. Doing it justice, as you say, weighed heavily on me. Felt a strong responsibility to get it right. Hope I succeeded.

    Let’s make sure we’re perfectly clear on the Colin Kaepernick situation. When you write “releasing a black player who’d been outspoken on civil rights issues could spark major protests” sounds “eerily similar to the Kaepernick situation” it certainly implies that Kaepernick was released for his militant views.

    Let’s not forget that Colin Kaepernick was not released at all. He opted out of a contract that was due to pay him $16.9 million. He left the 49ers on his own free will, the Niners did not release him.

    He had proven over the last two-and-a-half years of his career that he simply couldn’t get the job done.

    The man went 1-11 in his last season in San Francisco; 4-20 in his last 24 games as a starter. He was done as an NFL quarterback.

    There’s a long list of flash-in-the-pan quarterbacks who just couldn’t cut it in the NFL long-term. Just ask Tim Tebow, RGIII, Matt Cassel, JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, Matt Leinhart, Johnny Manziel and many, many others.

    Colin Kaepernick was done as an NFL quarterback long before he began his second career as a self-appointed martyr.

    So let’s not propogate the myth by implying that he was “released for being outspoken on civil rights issues.”

    Actually, if you go back and read the memo, instead of projecting your own biases onto it, you’ll see that the memo referred to the release of an outspoken player “strictly on the basis of his performance on the field.”

    Think harder.

    With all due respect, Paul, adding the phrase “strictly on the basis of his performance on the field” changes the meaning of your sentence. By omitting that sentence in the second paragraph of your lede, you’ve changed the context of your comparison.

    Go back and read that sentence both ways. They mean two different things, the same way that “I’m tired” means something totally different than “I’m tired of Donald Trump,” for example.

    Without attempting to be a journalism critic, including that phrase in your lede may be more indicative of the comparison you’re trying to make, and better illustrate the true foresight of Buddy Young. Without it, some readers may think it’s actually you who is “projecting your own biases onto it,” and I’m sure that’s not your intent. And I won’t tell you to think harder, just to reconsider your lede.

    I’m not trying to argue or criticize, just have an intelligent conversation. Had that phrase been included in the lede, there would have been no reason for my original diatribe about the circumstances of Kaepernick’s departure.

    Other than that it was a remarkable piece. Much appreciated.

    The 2nd graf (which I assume is what you’re referring to as the “lede”) is, by necessity, a series of truncated points. But deeper in the piece, I quote the relevant portion of the memo in full.

    Could it be Kaepernick opted out of his contract because the Niners were, simply put, bad? In ’15, I think his only offensive weapon was an aging Anquan Boldin. His record is as much an indictment of the bad defense they had, especially in ’16 (dead last in points allowed), and perhaps a rookie head coach too adamant about employing his offense when he didn’t have the personnel to execute it.

    To even compare Kaep to those players is an insult; only RGIII has a remotely similar career QB rating (around 89), and I think the general consensus with him was that, once his ability to create outside the pocket left him via injury and coaching, he was done for. Don’t forget that only one led his team to a Super Bowl, too.

    As a passer, Kaepernick’s TD:INT ratio was > 2:1 for his career (and, in fact, 4:1 in his damning ’16 season)–guys like Tom Brady are around 3:1. Eli Manning and Joe Flacco–overrated QBs that have won Super Bowls–are < 2:1. And don't forget that Kaep could beat you with his legs, too.

    Also, it's worth noting that Blaine Gabbert got a job in Arizona prior to the '17 season–you're clearly inferring Gabbert is the superior of the two.

    Some other experienced QBs who, according to ESPN's QBR stat, hurt their respective team far more than they helped this past season:
    – Joe Flacco
    – Eli Manning
    – Brian Hoyer
    – Jay Cutler
    – Andy Dalton

    Sorry, Ryan. As they say, stats are for losers. And 4-20 is the only stat that really matters.

    The NFL is (and has been for years) loaded with players whose behavior has been tolerated, teams have long looked the other way because of their on-field talent.

    Colin Kaepernick is simply not one of them.

    But I’ll give him credit for being a genius. When he reallized he was done as an NFL quarterback, he made himself relevent again. Brilliant.

    “They” being… one notoriously surly head coach, Bill Belichick?

    That’s an overly simple line of thought. Yes, at the end of the day, winning is what matters. But thanks to advanced statistics, we can now have a better idea of, regardless of the team surrounding a given player, how good that player actually.

    Just remember, drawing that to its logical conclusion, you’re stating unequivocally that Blake Bortles was a better QB than Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Matt Stafford, and on the same footing as Matt Ryan and Alex Smith.

    I’m sorry, but the thought that W-L record matters more than other statistics when evaluating players–even QBs–is outmoded and flat-out wrong. Otherwise, the league wouldn’t bother with scouting, pro days, or combines–just look at a guy’s record in college.

    You can’t have it both ways: Tim Tebow was a winner in college, went 7-4 and beat the defending AFC champion Steelers in a playoff game in 2011, and wound up on a different team the next year (okay, so Peyton Manning may have had something to do with that), and out of the league altogether after 2012. Of course, stats have a little something to do with that–we could look at his numbers, and determine he had no business starting or even backing up in the NFL.

    Extrapolating your logic, Blake Bortles is a superior QB to Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Matt Stafford, and on level footing with Matt Ryan, all of whom posted superior QBRs this past season. Yet Bortles might be out of a job in Jacksonville, or very narrowly saved it within the past few weeks. Curious.

    I will state again, since it’s still relevant to your accusation: Blaine Gabbert played every bit as poorly for the same exact team in 2016–whether you’re looking at stats or just the record–and somehow managed to latch on with Arizona prior to the ’17 season. You cannot objectively state that Kaep was a flash in the pan and was not offered another job based solely on his on-field performance. In fact, if anything, his stats rebounded a little from an even poorer 2015 season.

    The quote is derived from Bill Belichick in response to criticism of Randy Moss’ performance in a single game in 2009 (1 catch in a 20-10 win over Carolina). Interestingly, earlier in his press conference, he also said “You know, Randy Moss has been one of our most consistent players since he’s been here. His production has been pretty good.” Pretty good production = CHECK HIS STATS!!! It seems to me what Belichick was trying to say was, ‘I’m not going to run a guy out of town or throw him under the bus just because his stats aren’t there for one game.’

    Come to think of it, if stats really were for losers, there’d be no scouting anywhere in pro sports. No pro days, no combines. No ESPN as we know it. No and all its subsidiaries.

    Thanks to a revolution of sorts in calculating so-called advanced stats, we can now objectively look at the performance of players irrespective of how good their teammates are, and ignore any ulterior motives that alternative facts networks might have in publishing a QB’s W-L record over and over and over again, or using inane quotes originating from Fox(borough).

    And using your statistical logic Ryan, Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, among others.

    The winners of the world say that.

    Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman never seemed too concerned with their stats. Dan Marino was obsessed with his.

    I’m thinking Vince Lombardi was never too concerned with statistics.

    The notion that the world can be neatly divided into “winners” and “losers” is as false as the notion that you can make blanket statements about same (or that you can read certain people’s minds regarding their statistic obsessions or lack thereof).

    Let’s please move on from this before it gets even more embarrassing. Thanks.

    I’m sure Tom Brady is not very concerned with her personal statistics. But I can tell you that the New England Patriots are really, really, really concerned with stats. And it contributes to their success massively.

    Here’s one example: Why’d they go out and acquire Rex Burkhead? Because he was a statistical beast in very limited usage in Cincinnati, and as such was extremely undervalued. Now he’s an important part of their Super Bowl-bound offense. Interesting how that works.

    A quick internet search on “Stats are for Losers” shows the following have uttered that statement

    Bill Belichek
    Chris Peterson
    Ben McAdoo
    Will Muschamp
    Steve Harvey
    Scotty Bowman

    You can even get a T-shirt


    Kaepernick opted out bc the 49ers were going to release him anyway. There’s articles everywhere explaining this.

    Spin it any way you want. They finished 1-10 in his last year as starting QB, and 4-20 in his last 24 starts.

    Was he worth $16.9 million the following season?

    As the Pittsburgh Pirates famously told Ralph Kiner, “We finished in last place with you, we can finish in last place without you.”

    Wow. I had no intention of creating such a maelstrom. Here’s a good article that may answer Nate’s question: link

    I didn’t invent the quote, I merely repeated it. Nobody is calling anybody a loser.

    Perhaps I should practice as I preach and better explain the choice of terms so as not to be misunderstood. Although wordy, perhaps it would have been better for me to choose the terms “Fans of winning teams” and “fans of losing teams” instead of winners and losers. I’m sure that’s what every coach who’s every uttered those words intended as well.

    I’m not suggesting people that like stats are losers, merely that fans of losing teams often tend to rely on statistics to put a positive spin when things don’t produce the on-field results they may like. Or maybe they use them as excuses.

    But when the Patriots win Super Bowl after Super Bowl, nobody in Boston gives a crap what Tom Brady’s QB rating was, or how many receptions Rob Gronkowski had, or how many yards their running back gained. “Fans of winning teams” don’t care about stats.

    But fans of losing teams, or in this case quarterbacks with 4-20 records, use statistics as a defense mechanism against criticism.

    Believe me, regardless of his stats, had Colin Kaepernick been 20-4 instead of 4-20 we wouldn’t be having this conversation because he’d still have a job.

    Well by the same token he took the 49ers to back-to-back NFC title games, including a Super Bowl.

    Colin Kaepernick has nearly an identical career win percentage (28-30) to Jay Cutler (74-79) and Smokin’ Jay got the call to come out of retirement to start for Miami.

    Players get second and third chances based on a great performance in games played early in their career all the time. Barring a terrible injury, some NFL GM is always willing to take a chance (after all no NFL contract is completely guaranteed) that a player could return to form.

    I understand that, Paul. And my intent was not to make this personal and there’s no offense intended.

    However, as a reader, please understand that in this case by truncating that particular point you may have inadvertantly changed the context of your comparison, which was certainly not your intent, while lessening the impact of Mr. Young’s foresight.

    That may not have been your intent, but you can understand how easily it could be the reader’s perception.

    Again, to use my earlier oversimplified analogy, you woudn’t want to imply that you were overtired in your 2nd paragraph truncated points, while waiting until much later to explain that what you were really trying to say is that you’re tired of Donald Trump. Two completey different things, right?

    As a reader I just wanted to alert you that that particular sentence was written in a way that may leave it open to misinterpretation by the reader.

    And in tiptoeing through the minefield of such a divisive topic, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to alienate a significant portion of your readership due to a misperception of a bias that doesn’t exist.

    Great discovery.
    Great reporting.
    Critical information for everyone on both sides of the topic.
    Keep up the good work.

    Woops…Sorry, Paul. This was meant as a reply to our earlier discussion. Can you move it there?

    This is an amazing article. It’s crazy how well Young and Rozelle were able to perceive the situation and how much those recommendations were utterly ignored for at least 20 years.

    Happily not what I expected from this “Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players”. As a white kid growing up in Southern California, 1966 I was 8, sports had a huge impact on how I viewed race. My mom wanted me to read more, so she bought autobiographies on many athletes, with many being about back athletes. I was color-blind when it came to my sports heroes. The 1960s in LA had lots of Black athletes that I loved…UCLA with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), USC’s OJ Simpson, Lakers Elgin Baylor, Rams Deacon Jones, Dodgers Willie & Tommy Davis. In 1968 when Tommy Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympics, I ran out and bought black leather gloves.

    Well done on the historical memo. I hope this helps advance the conversation. There are so many issues to unwind here, but here’s one I noticed. I admire Buddy Young for his memo, but I think this example illustrates the frustration of “working within the system.” It’s a method many use to squelch debate on tough issues i.e. Colin Kaepernick should have used some other avenue to protest. Buddy Young’s memo “worked within the system,” and we can see how that turned out decades later. When the system inherently doesn’t want to change, it needs courageous activists to force the issue into the open.

    Regarding the Golden Knights issue… Given how well they’re playing this year, there had seemed to be a very real possibility that they could win the Stanley Cup and then have to change their name the following season. How weird would that be? Now that the two sides are talking, I suspect that won’t happen.

    Just like Puerto Rico and Mexico did a couple of days ago, the Dominican Republic unveiled their jerseys for this year’s Carribean Series. (link below) They will be represented by the Aguilas, who won a crazy final series that went to game seven.

    Love your work Paul and I am sure the article is fascinating, but there is no way I am going to read anything on that racist site. Sorry.

    If you think that site is racist, then you wouldn’t agree with the point of the article – how little progress there’s been in America in the last 50 years – anyway.

    “the Swedish company Craft has created a Nordic skiing suit that reportedly weighs only seven ounces!”

    Is anyone else stuck with the image of Ned Flanders saying to Homer Simpson, in reference to his tight ski suit, “feels like I’m wearing nothing at all!”

Comments are closed.