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Sacco Sez: Celebrating Buddy Young and Black History Month


February is Black History Month, and a lot of firsts will be recognized and paid tribute to this month.

It is most fitting, to me, that we recognize Buddy Young during this time.

Very few people reading this probably know the name Buddy Young, but I do, and allow me to take a few minutes paying tribute to one of the nicest, classiest guys ever employed by the National Football League.

Buddy Young was the first Black executive ever employed by the NFL, back in 1964.

He was captivating and charismatic, a natural leader, and he gave us (and particularly me) one of the greatest sayings I have ever heard.

Upon a greeting in the morning of any given day, Buddy would say, "This is another great day in which to excel." That was not just a few words put together for Buddy. He meant it, and he lived it.

"This is another great day in which to excel."

Buddy was born in Chicago in 1926 and from an early age played football and ran track. He was only 5-foot-4 (some of us, myself included, would say he was closer to 5-foot-3), making it most notable years later when he became the shortest Pro Bowl player in NFL annals. Think for a moment how hard it must be to become one of the best pro football players while standing just 5-foot-4.

A track star at Illinois, he became known by the nickname, "The Bronze Bullet." He won two national titles at the 1944 NCAA Outdoor championship and tied the indoor world record for the 60-yard dash.

He was drafted by the New York Yankees (the football team) in 1947 and played for the Yankees in the AAFC and then the Yanks in the NFL for five seasons, then for the Dallas Texans and finally for the Baltimore Colts, with whom he was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1954.

Overall, he ran and caught passes more than 5,400 yards in the NFL (all in a 12-game season) and scored 38 rushing and receiving touchdowns. He also led the NFL in kickoff return yards in 1952.

Young went over 1,000 all-purpose yards in five different seasons and averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his nine-year career, adding in about 15 yards per reception and almost 28 yards per kickoff return.

In a 1953 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Young returned the opening kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, which was at the time the second-longest kickoff return in NFL history.

His No. 22 would become the Colts' first retired number in franchise history.

"The Bronze Bullet" was a superstar of his time, enthusiastic and positive at the ultimate degree. It was impossible not to like Buddy Young.

So when the NFL was looking for a director of player relations in 1964, he was the obvious choice.

Among his accomplishments was a 1966 document on race and the NFL, one that the sociologist Harry Edwards said in 2021 "should be in Canton, enshrined in a case like the Declaration of Independence."

In this memo, Young laid out the demographics in the league and proposed forward-thinking suggestions to help encourage equality in the growing NFL.

"The proposals Buddy Young spelled out here were just so forward-thinking for that period of time," director of the Institute for Diversity of Ethics in Sport Richard Lapchick said of the memo. "He basically proposed what player programs eventually became 20 years later. This document is something activists and scholars will refer to far into the future."

It is hard to say how long his career would have lasted, or how much influence he would have had on how many people, but his career and life were cut short. On his way home from the memorial service for the late Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, Buddy died in a car accident in Texas. It was 1983 when Buddy left us.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Donovan, a former Colts teammate, said, "Buddy was a little man playing a big man's game and was all heart. He didn't know how to quit."

So sometime during Black History Month, remember that there can only be one first, and due to a great many factors, Buddy Young was the first Black executive in the NFL.

"This is another great day in which to excel."

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