As Brian Scott explains, the public is very familiar with the story of racial integration in professional baseball. However, notes the Rutgers University–Camden alumnus, we are not informed that other major professional sports, such as football and basketball, were also experiencing racial integration during the 1940s.
Scott sheds light on this critical period in pro football history in his new documentary, Tackling Jim Crow. The film features the firsthand accounts of several pioneering, African American players, as well as the perspectives of noted football historians.
The Marlton native will return to his alma mater to present the documentary at 1:20 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, as part of Rutgers–Camden’s Black History Month celebration. Following the screening, Scott will lead a discussion on the film and subject matter.
The screening, which is free and open to the general public, will be held in room 106 of the Law School Complex, located at Fifth and Penn streets on the Rutgers–Camden campus.
“It is fascinating to hear directly from the players who experienced it,” says Scott, a 2010 graduate of Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in history, who created the documentary as part of his master’s degree in documentary and history at Syracuse University.
According to Scott, the first segment of the film features a prelude beginning in the 1920s when the league was a “free-for-all,” an unorganized coalition of teams, some which included African American players. “Then The Great Depression hit and black players were kicked out of the league, and didn’t return again until the 1940s,” says Scott, who earned an associate’s degree at Burlington County College.
Among the former players who share their experiences, Emerson Cole highlights the contributions of the late Marion Motley, his mentor and teammate on the Cleveland Browns. Scott recounts Cole saying that Motley was a figure who “took one for the team.” “He was the guy who wouldn’t fight back when he was getting his hand stepped on,” Scott says. “He put up with the pain and abuse, and never said a word. His performance spoke for itself.”
Scott adds that Cole poignantly remembers Motley as being acutely aware of their roles as trailblazers for future African American players in the league. “He told Emerson, ‘Our job as the early African Americans in the sport is to conduct ourselves as gentlemen, and to be tough football players, so that we can open the doors for those who come after us,’” says Scott.
Another former player, George Taliaferro, shares stories of his days playing multiple positions in college and, subsequently, for several professional teams, including the Los Angeles Dons and New York Yankees. Scott says that Taliaferro recalls one particular incident when a rival team’s owner came onto the field and shouted that Taliaferro should be doing manual labor. “Everyone knew that, George, being the only black man on the field that day, could hear it,” relays Scott. “But he didn’t retaliate. Instead, he went on to score three touchdowns that day. After the game, George wanted to rub it in the owner’s face, but the owner had left the field before he got the chance.”
Above all, Scott wants viewers to understand that, although professional football is thoroughly integrated now, there is an incredibly rich history that led to that point. He also hopes to pay what he believes is a long-overdue tribute to Motley. “You can go anywhere in this country and say Jackie Robinson and people will know who you are talking about,” says Scott. “But only football fans in Ohio know the name ‘Marion Motley.’ He really was a fascinating man.”
With filmmaking experience under his belt, Scott served an internship in 2012 at Durrin Productions in Washington D.C., helping to put together a documentary about chemical weapons in World War I. He credits his education at Rutgers–Camden for providing the footing to pursue his joint master’s degree in documentary and film. “Rutgers–Camden immersed me in history, so I was ready to do something with that foundation,” he says.
This event is co-sponsored by the departments of Digital Studies and History.