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The Color of Sundays

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When Americans think about racial segregation in sports, it is often associated with Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues.

The National Football League, after decades of limited integration, essentially banned black players in 1933. It wasn’t until 1946 that the league started to integrate, and even then it took years until the NFL was truly integrated.

In “The Color of Sundays: The Secret Strategy That Built the Steelers Dynasty,” author Andrew Conte tells the story of Bill Nunn, the scout behind the Steelers multiple Super Bowl wins in the 1970’s – and one of the NFL’s driving forces behind true integration.

“It’s amazing when you go back and you think that not that long ago that black athletes were shut out of a lot of American sports,” said Conte. “[The NFL] brought in the first black players in 1946, and then it takes them literally decades to really fully integrate the sport. In some ways it’s remarkable how far we’ve come and it’s also important to remember where we were before.”

Conte did not know the full story of Bill Nunn until after he started to do research for the book.

Nunn covered the Steelers as a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential black publications in the country. There he developed a deep knowledge of college players at historically black colleges throughout the nation, and the Courier began to name a “Black College All-American” team.

The Steelers took notice and eventually Nunn joined the team as a part time scout. When Chuck Noll was hired as the Steelers head coach in 1969, Nunn’s scouting position became a full-time job.

Nunn discovered players at black colleges such Arkansas A&M and South Carolina State. He convinced the Steelers to draft players such as Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, John Stallworth and others – players that other teams passed up who wound up starring on the Steelers multiple Super Bowl teams of the 1970’s.

“He brought this different perspective to the team,” Conte explained. “Those are guys who would have completely fallen through the cracks, The Color of Sundays by Andrew Contewho almost didn’t have a chance to play in the NFL, who went on to become stars in the NFL. They almost missed out solely because of their skin color.”

Conte found motivation for the book after meeting Nunn, as well as hearing stories from men of Nunn’s generation who experienced the segregation first hand. Conte felt it was important to record these stories for today’s fans and future generations.

“Fans are proud of the team because of the things they’ve done on the field, right?” Conte asks rhetorically. “They’ve won more championships than anybody. But what I really liked about this story was that you learned that they won their championships by doing the right thing along the way.”

Published in November, “The Color of Sundays: The Secret Strategy That Built the Steelers Dynasty” can be found in stores and online here.

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