Our Groans, Glory and Great Achievements
By Professor Jacqueline Brannon Giles, Adjunct Professor of Mathematics;
Region C Representative/National Association of Mathematicians Board of Directors.
I am a grandma who loves STEM. The love for mathematics was instilled in me by my mother who is still active and competent at 92 years old. She shared with me that she graduated high school at 14 years old, and she was a member of the first Calculus class at the historical Jack Yates High School in Houston, Texas. Mother Brannon would squat on the floor and play games with me, defeating me most of the time when I was a young child, yet encouraging me to continue to think and work. She set an expectation for me, and now I am setting high expectations for my six grandchildren.
My grandson, Spencer Jr. has always tinkered with our cellphones and computers. He seemed to understand how to do things on the computer with little or no help from his father, Spencer Sr., who is a mathematics instructor in the Cleveland School District in Ohio. Since Spencer Jr. was born on a Super Bowl Sunday, I dedicated myself to Sports and Mathematics so that I could nurture him in both areas. I wanted to be a good grandma with inspiring, and exciting content for my first grandson who was born during a Super Bowl.
Since 2008, I started researching the history of the university that awarded me my first degree in mathematics and English. Since I still teach mathematics at both a two-year college and at a diverse historical university in a minority community, I was honored when one of the Directors of Communications asked that I write an article for Homecoming 2015. The article below is my contribution as a Grandma in STEM, and as a serious fan of college and professional football. I dedicate this article to Spencer Jr, Alyssa, Analicia, Aubriella, Halle, and Adeja, the eldest grandchild.
Giving birth to greatness in a university often is accompanied by groans of challenge, struggle and what may appear to be insurmountable tasks. The birth of Texas Southern University (TSU) started with a groan from a man who was denied entrance in another major Texas institution. The groans of segregation gave rise to the birth of a powerful historical university that served the needs of the disenfranchised in 1947. Those groans were a blessing in disguise for they were the sound of birth pains, giving rise to an institution that has produced leaders who are prepared to lead in a culturally diverse United States of America as well as internationally. Many of those leaders have been outstanding on the gridiron in college and professional football.
R. C. Thomas remembers the groans of a TSU player who loved to practice on the playing field under the leadership of Head Coach Alexander Durley who was also a mathematics professor. R. C. was a young man who served as the water boy for the TSU team. He is the brother of W. K. Hicks, an outstanding former NFL player with the New York Jets. R. C. remembers Hicks’ friend and colleague Warren Wells, who was so passionate about football practice that R.C. sometimes heard him groan when he did his drills and other schemes in practice. Wells is among nearly 65 other Texas Southern University football stars that made memorable contributions to the American Football League and the National Football League.
Coach Alexander Durley would send his football players to the Mathematics Lab, in Samuel Nabrit Hall, for mathematics tutoring to help them maintain good averages in their mathematics classes. I met one of the players who became a great “deep threat.” In 1962, he claimed that he did mathematics on the football field while I do it on the blackboard. It took a lot of years for me to see the wisdom in his comment.
The preparation and expended intellectual, physical and spiritual energy imparted by the mathematics professor, Alexander Durley, who was also the head coach in the Sixties yielded a cadre of physical warriors. These high achievers made phenomenal gains in professional football. Many, however, have not been heralded in the national media, but now their university has dropped the gauntlet to wage war against oversights and selective exposure. Now is the time for the former TSU stars to shine in glory as we reflect on their great achievements at Homecoming in 2015.
The legacies of achievement in sports are founded on the passions and pathos of the academic leaders, both past and present. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” So, the giants in athletic achievement of the past at Texas Southern have established a robust foundation for the future. Some of the great achievers in professional football who I have researched are:
Douglas, John (1967 – 1969)
Frazier, Charlie (1962 – 1970)
Hicks, W.K. (1964 – 1972)
Hill, Winston (1963 – 1977)
Holmes, Ernie (1972 – 1978)
Jones, Homer (1964 – 1970)
Rice, Andy (1966 – 1973)
Wells, Warren (1964 – 1970)
White, John (1960 – 1961)
One of the powerful professional football players who attended Texas Southern University and who brought honor and glory to us all was Ernie Holmes. He was a part of the strong defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The other strong men of the “Steel Curtain” were “Mean” Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, and Dwight White.
Ernie Holmes inspired me because he is the father of a young mathematician who made history by becoming the second African American male to complete a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Houston. The fact that the senior Holmes fathered the historical mathematician is evidence, in my opinion, that the men on the playing field are often men of high intellect, and those genes are passed down to the next generation of achievers in football, mathematics and other disciplines.
Another reason I developed a passion for researching and writing about the men who attended Texas Southern and who played professional football is because in 1974 I hired a relative of one of the Steel Curtain group. Bob White, a former probation officer, would brag about the feats of the Steel Curtain during breaks at an Urban League Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA) project located at Blodgett and Dowling at the former Urban League location. Bob White was the uncle of Dwight White of the Steel Curtain.
John White, another TSU alumnus, also inspired a passion in me for research and writing about football. He headed Project P.U.L.L. after his career ended, and he hired other former NFL players from Texas Southern as a part of his community service effort to touch and direct the lives of those who had unusual challenges when they transitioned from the glory of professional football back to mundane lifestyles in Third Ward. John White’s project was located on McGowan and Hwy 288. The purpose of the project was youth development, and leadership development. Deloyd Parker, the Executive Director and Founder of S.H.A.P. E. Community Center reminded me that Project P.U.L.L. was funded by professional athletes and community persons.
Winston Hill inspired me, too. Hill protected the blind-side of Joe Namath. Over the years I have questioned the selection process of the committee responsible for voting players into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Two visits to the Hall of Fame shifted my interest to examine the selection process. One research question that I have posed to hundreds of students requires us to look at the interaction analysis on the football playing field. The argument I present is that a quarterback cannot be successful if the wide receiver or others do not make successful receptions. The quarterback cannot be successful if he is sacked. Therefore, the players who successfully protect the quarterback are as valuable as the quarterback. The logic directs our thinking to conjecture that if the quarterback is in the Hall of Fame, then the key players who protected him should be enshrined.
The other arguments that have been presented in more than 1400 articles on Bleacher Report and Raider Nation Times include a characterization of intensity, integrity, and consistency in performance on the playing field. Several TSU alumni demonstrated those characteristics on the playing field. Many of the more than 65 TSU alumni who became AFL or NFL players have not been recognized for their illustrious achievements. Some argue that players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in the past, did not have the support system to protect and promote their achievements in professional football. Also, there are those who agree with the premises of life after football challenges depicted in the documentary entitled, “Broke,” distributed by ESPN.
Texas Southern University is leading the movement to recognize its own graduates and former students by featuring their achievements in both their profession and in their communities. The celebratory events of this year’s Homecoming will resound through this nation, signaling a new era of recognition and honor for those who have inspired millions by their outstanding performance on the gridiron.
We salute our professional football stars. We are grateful for the joy and inspiration they are giving us and have given us through the years.