NFL Hall of Fame defensive end David “Deacon” Jones died on Monday, June 4 at the age of 74. Jones will be most remembered for his outstanding NFL career, where he made a living out of putting quarterbacks in the dirt. Sacks, a term Jones is credited with coining, were not an official statistic when he played in the 1960s, but had they been, he would currently rank third overall. And he hasn’t played in over 40 years.
Before he took the NFL by storm, Jones was another young Black athlete from the South who was not recruited by majority schools. While today, Florida, Miami and Florida State would probably be fighting for him on a daily basis, Jones probably never even thought twice about those schools. That just wasn’t a reality in the South of the 1950s. Perhaps that’s what drove him to put those quarterbacks, all of whom were white, in the ground with such furor…the fact that he could have done it in college.
“I never went to school with a Caucasian. The first time I hit one without the police coming after me was in the pros. I will never forget that. That rings in my mind every day.”
-Deacon Jones, Black College Football Hall of Fame Speech
So Jones took his talents to Orangeburg, South Carolina. While at SC State, his scholarship was allegedly pulled for being involved in civil rights protest. That’s right, an athlete for a historically black college was dropped from his scholarship for participating in the civil rights era. Pretty amazing.
Jones would eventually land at Mississippi Valley State, where he would become the college’s most famous alum, until some receiver named Rice came along in the 1980s. Still, Jones was a trailblazer and a one-of-a-kind personality. Listen to him talk about his experiences in the 50s and 60s, not just as an athlete, but as a Black man.
“From 1961 until the day I walked out, I tried to beat every man that was in front of me. I did that because the commitment was on me. We were demonstrating, we were doing a lot of things trying to change society. And those that had an opportunity, had to be successful.”
You were, Mr. Jones. You sure were.
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The second annual Deacon Jones Trophy will be awarded in Feb. 2018.