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How the Kansas City Chiefs were pioneers in recruiting Black players in the 1960s

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A man stands outdoors with a dark coat over a red football jersey. He is standing next to many other Kansas City Chiefs football players on the sidelines.
Charlie Riedel/AP
Former Chiefs player Willie Lanier during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt’s dedication to discovering Black athletes dates back to the 1960s, from selecting a Black player first in the 1963 AFL draft to hiring the first full-time African American pro scout.

As football fans across the country get ready to watch two Black starting quarterbacks go head-to-head in the Super Bowl for the first time in history, what many people might not know is how the Kansas City Chiefs paved the way for Black players in the NFL.

Before the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) merger in 1966, the AFL was known as almost the only place where Black football players had an opportunity to play professionally, according to an article by FOX 4 reporter Harold Kuntz.

Chiefs founder and former owner Lamar Hunt was pivotal in leading that charge, Kuntz found.

After the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt went out to find Black talent at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, visiting schools like Grambling State University in Louisiana, Prairie View A&M in Texas, Tennessee State University, and Morgan State in Baltimore.

Kuntz reports that Lamar Hunt's father received pushback about his son having many Black players on the team. But Lamar knew the most important thing was winning.

Willie Lanier was a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chiefs from 1968-1975, who went to Morgan State and was a product of Lamar Hunt's recruiting. Speaking with KCUR's Up To Date, he reflected on how the Hunt family treated Black players.

"It was fascinating to me because this was a family from Texas that had a somewhat of a right wing view, politically at certain points in time, but Lamar and his family treated everybody equal," Lanier said.

To help construct the Chiefs roster, Hunt brought on Houston writer Lloyd Wells, who became the first full-time African American pro scout.

Michael MacCambridge, author of "69 Chiefs: A Team, A Season, and the Birth of Modern Kansas City" and the forthcoming book "The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America," says the Chiefs showed how sports could be used to advance racial equity.

"Some of the first steps in integration occurred because there was a sports team, in this case, a football team that had an integrated roster, that was going to insist that everybody have an equal opportunity and that everybody be treated equally and have the same chance," MacCambridge said.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As an assistant producer on Up To Date, my goal is to amplify voices of people who serve as pioneers in their respective fields while shedding light on issues that affect underserved communities. I produce daily conversations to uplift and inspire the people of the Kansas City area to make the world a better place. You can reach me at reginalddavid@kcur.org.
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