Pro Football Hall of Fame
Cornelius Perry (presenter):
July 29, 1995
Thank you. Mr. Mayor, Mr. Commissioner, President of the Board, and Hall of Fame honorees. This is one of the proudest moments of my life. I am very honored that Kellen Winslow would ask me and my long time friend, and former co-worker, defensive coordinator James Lewis to present him this afternoon. Coach Lewis would you please stand and acknowledge. Thank you Coach. Today Coach Lewis and I have the honor of representing all the former coaches, former players of Kellen's outstanding career.
During the spring of 1974 at East St. Louis Senior High School, East St. Louis, Illinois, a tall, lanky chess player was the quarterback on my flag football unit. All the other positions were too tough for him. After observing this guy throw the football almost the length of the field with a certain degree of accuracy. And hearing this quarterback direct his personnel in order to achieve a winning outcome. I said “this is the type of guy we need on our organized football squad.” So Coach Lewis and I went to work.
We first received a commitment from Kellen. Which was not that difficult even though he was making good money working for a private company. I think he was a little hesitant because we were cutting into his chess time. The most difficult task was getting his mother to say “yes.” I think dad was always in agreement with us. But to make a long story short, a reluctant, but persistent mom finally agreed. But only after Coach Lewis and I convinced her to believe and trust in us as coaches. The rest is history. And here are some of those historical highlights of Kellen's achievements.
Yes, Kellen only played one year of football at East St. Louis Senior High, but there he was able to begin his foundation and start his road map to success by making first team All-Southwest Conference as a tight end.
Kellen's success continued at the University of Missouri-Columbia. During his senior year Kellen earned All-American honors. Wrapping up his career at Missouri as the sixth leading receiver in school history. Not bad for a tight end. The University of Missouri will retire Kellen's football jersey number this fall.
Kellen became a number one draft choice of the San Diego Chargers in 1979. There his football honors started to grow as his success was almost immediate. Kellen helped to redefine the position of tight end with the “Air Coryell” offense of Coach Don Coryell. During nine seasons with the Chargers, Kellen caught 541 passes for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns, including 26 games with a minimum of at least 100 yards receiving. By combining size and quickness with deep threat capability, defensive backs found it difficult and hard to believe that someone so big could be so fast and quick.
Kellen became football's most complete receiver during the 1980s. I am compelled to mention a game played in 1982 because Kellen, I know your career is been defined by a single playoff game, San Diego-41 Miami-38. Yes Kellen, that one game which you gave your all, your blood, sweat, and tears to help the Chargers defeat the Dolphins. That one game which you caught 13 passes for 166 yards. That one game which you blocked a field goal attempt refusing the Dolphins a victory during regulation time. Your efforts and achievements appeared to give strength to the entire squad, as it was not surprising you had to be literally helped off the field suffering from extreme fatigue after the game. Yes there were many good games throughout your career Kellen. But this one game will forever be entrenched in our hearts and minds. I hope you never get tired of hearing about it. I can imagine it upsets the Dolphins to hear it again.
Kellen we are here today in Canton, Ohio, because you and your beautiful family believed in us twenty years ago. You made this dream possible by your flaming desire to succeed which carried over into your personal life, as witness by your present activities. An analyst for radio, broadcasting the University of Missouri football games, sports agent, and director of football operations for Precepts Sports and Entertainment, with offices in Columbia, Maryland, and Chicago. Again let me say I am thrilled to be here. On behalf of your beautiful family, your friends, former coaches, and former teammates, it is with great pride and honor that Coach Lewis and I present you for induction into the National League Hall of Fame, Class of 1995. Ladies and Gentleman All-Universe, All-World, Hall of Famer, Kellen Winslow.
Nice number. Thank you all of Canton. Thank you.
I stand here today at the doorstep of one of the most exclusive clubs ever. But before entering I am forced to reflect on the road which has led me here. It is a road that was paved with sacrifice of trailblazers who suffer the shame and humiliation of a less tolerable society than the one which I confronted. It is a road traveled not alone, but with the love and support of many.
I must first and foremost give praise to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. For without God in my life I am nothing. My faith as shaky as it can be at times has brought me through many a battle. He has forgiven me for my sins more times than I care to remember. He will continue to do so because I am his child. To God be the glory. It is in his everlasting love that I find inner peace and serenity.
To my parents who are here with me today. Who have played such an important role in my life. They have been a constant force from the beginning; in East St. Louis Illinois, to The University of Missouri-Columbia to my playing days with the San Diego Chargers. You have always shown your love and your pride by being there for me. During the high times and during the low, you have constantly reminded me of the presence of God in my life. You have also reminded me of my opportunities and my responsibilities that come with those opportunities. If today, due to your oldest son, your third of seven being inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame the pride you feel causes you to stand a little taller or smile a little broader then I am a happy child. On the 5th of November in the year 1957 my heavenly Father delivered me to you for my earthly care. I thank God for you and the manner which you raised me. Job well done. I love you both dearly.
To my sons Justin and Kellen and my godson Jade. I tell the world today of the love and pride I feel for you. You are indeed the sunshine’s of my life. Your presence in my life serves as a never-ending dying motivation of the best father I can possibly be. You have been a joy in my life from the day you arrived. Continue to trust in me and the lessons I teach you, and your road will be smoother, your path clearer. Your purpose will become evident.
To my brothers and sisters who I am sure you've heard quite a bit from today. There they are on cue. David and Earl, Valerie, Donna, Monica, and Mirna. I wish the same to you that your love and support over the years has always served as a motivation for me to want to do more. Whenever I've played in front of family members somehow someway I've found to take my game to the next level. Because I knew they were there. As always I know you got my back.
To my high school coaches, Coach Perry my presenter, and Coach Jimmy Lewis who is in the audience today. I fear that I would never be able to express my gratitude. You saw in me that which I did not see in myself, a God given ability. Through your early teachings, your love and support, I went from being just another kid at school to a member of the 1974 East St. Louis Senior High School football team. A status within the East St. Louis community that is looked upon with a great deal of pride by all. Those early lessons taught by you on and off the field of play stay with me as well as my high school teammates to this day. You instilled in us a sense of not just teamwork, but of family. You taught us the value of preparation not only for football, but for life. You also taught us the value of education and instilled in us a sense of tradition that was bigger than any one of us, a tradition that continues to this day at my hometown, East St. Louis, Illinois.
Coach it is my hope that when people gaze upon the bust of Kellen Winslow in the National Football League Hall of Fame that they see the two of you firmly perched on each shoulder. You once told me that I was a diamond in the ruff waiting to shine. Well, while there is still some grinding and polishing to be done I pray that you bask in the brilliance of that which shines today.
To my teammates and coaches of the San Diego Chargers, gentleman, we had some wonderful times together on and off the field. Our record speaks for itself. We were good and we knew it. We accomplished things that people had never thought possible and we did it with style and flare. Without Gene Klein, Johnny Sanders, Tank Younger, Don Coryell and his many coaching staffs. Without Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, Eric Sievers, Pete Holohan, Chuck Muncie and so many others. Kellen Winslow is just another tight end, and not a member of this group, the National Football League Hall of Fame. To you I say “thank you” for being as good as you are that allowed my talents to shine. I pray that each and every member of those clubs share a sense of ownership in this grand occasion today.
There are still many individuals who have over the years have had a profound effect on my life. While time does not allow for the acknowledgement for each and every one of them, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge just a few individuals who have played major roles.
Dr. Charles Schmits from the University of Missouri-Columbia, College of Education who stuck with me throughout the years of my undergraduate efforts, your support and love is greatly appreciated.
To Dr. Prentis Gaut now Associate Commissioner of the Big 12. For your quiet yet strong leadership as a Christian and as a man. You have served as a model for what I hope to become. You are indeed class personified.
Charlie Joiner, a future member of this Hall, great years. I benefited from your quiet form of leadership. It is from you that I learned to be a professional. It is from you that I learned to conduct myself on and off the field. In sports, athletes have a tendency to talk at each other and not to each other. The machoism of the profession at times prevents players from delving below the surface into deeper more important issues in their lives. I wish to say to you today, before a nation that I heard you when you spoke and when you did not. Your leadership on and off the field did not go unnoticed by me and many others.
Furthermore, I have no doubt of the origins of your quiet leadership. For years I have been envious of your Grambling State University ties. The affection that all Grambling players, coaches, and alumni share has often caused me to wonder what I missed by not attending a historically black institution. One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from the head of the Grambling family. When he said to me, "Big fella, you could have played for dear old Grambling."
Last and certainly not least, I would like to dedicate this speech to Dr. Walter Daniel, former president of Lincoln University in Jefferson City Missouri, Vice Chancellor of the University Missouri-Columbia, Professor of English and African American literature, and my adopted godfather. In February of this year Dr. Daniel passed away. But before leaving this earth he provided valuable counseling and guidance. His desire to challenge and motivate his students was fueled by his love for them. His desire to challenge and to motivate me was his goal. As an African American man who grew up in a less than tolerable society, he realized the importance of his role as a leader and as a fighter for causes relating to improving opportunities to those who were to follow him. His lessons have not gone unheeded. So it is today that I dedicate my induction into the National Football League to him.
Being inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame not only provides a place for football immortality. It also provides a platform to address issues related to the areas of sports. At this time I would like to address such an issue. The issue of affirmative action is once again a major topic in our country. Affirmative action has been attacked from all fronts and from within by from those who have decided that it is no longer necessary or an effective tool to address long standing discrimination. These individuals would have you believe that society’s playing fields are now level, and that we have reached Dr. King's dream of being judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. They would have you believe that over 300 years of De Jeur and De Facto racial preference in one direction had been now remedied by less than 30 years of unenforced policies in the other.
The politicians have targeted affirmative action as the political ball for this upcoming national election. And have scrambled to justify their positions to appease this country's extreme move to the right. The political backlash in Washington is more of a political back draft consuming any and everything in its path. Standing in the path of this political back draft, as always, are the poor, the downtrodden, the politically powerless, minorities and children of this country. They have chosen to paint affirmative action with a brush of mediocrity. That anyone that has come through an affirmative action program is in some manner inferior to the non-minority counterparts. The numbers fail to justify this most recent and long-standing cry that unqualified minorities are taking away substantial educational and job opportunities from qualified non-minorities. They have chosen to focus on the negatives, driving the point to exhaustion, but have failed to touch on the successes.
In recent court decisions, some members of the Supreme Court especially one who should know better, has decided that this so-called living and breathing document that started this country should now be interpreted in a strict fashion. There by barring the federal and state government from doing, if Spike Lee will forgive me, the right thing. Need one be reminded how this so-called living and breathing document that our courts now choose to read literally, initially dealt with a class of citizens now referred to as African Americans. Need one be reminded of the law that said on the books not so long ago that regulated a raise to second or third-class citizenship simply because of the color of their skin. Nor need one be reminded that our national defense was not too long ago, predicated on keeping our forces, our fighting troops categorized based on skin color.
These are facts that we simply can not ignore. They are much a part of our history as the victory over the British and can not be cast aside. But now, after less than thirty years of a policy that has the proper goal of attempting to induce those that have been excluded for so long. The powers to be have declared it no longer necessary. To these people I say take off your robes, leave your ivory towers and congressional halls and walk the streets of America today. Look into the eyes of the members of the various minorities, Native Americans, African Americans, Women, Hispanics, Asians, and so on and tell them that in spite of the odds before them, odds they know all too well, that they can overcome these odds because now the playing field is level. We have come a long way as a society in addressing the issue of equal rights and opportunities for all and of those accomplishments we should be proud. But we must also deal with the reality that we have a very, very long way to go.
I, therefore, call on the President of these United States to continue his support of affirmative action programs in a fashion that will continue to provide opportunities for minorities in both the private and public sector. That even if the program must change significantly to fit the restrictive guidelines set by the Supreme Court that that program be given the funding and the power to enforce those guidelines. In the long run, history will reward you, Mr. President, for taking the tough stance, for standing for what is right and for what is just.
As an African American I can think of only one particular industry in this country where we posses the economic and political clout that provides a level playing field of competition, thereby making affirmative action a non-necessity. That industry of course is sports. One need only turn on their television to see any given night be it professional or college, football or basketball, to see the numerical presence of the African American athlete. Think back, Orlando versus Houston in the NBA finals, Dallas versus San Francisco in a NFC title game and Arkansas versus UCLA in the final four championship game.
Nonetheless our significant numerical presence on the field has not translated into a significant measurable presence in positions of authority off the field of play. The coaching staffs, head coaches, front office, league office, support staff, administrative positions, television crews on and off camera, television executives, newspapers, reporters, sports agents, and other related professions fail at various degrees to reflect the numerical presence on the field. And while I acknowledge that significant progress has been made over recent years, there is clearly room for improvement.
I am reminded of my impressions at this year's Super Bowl. On the field, one could easily count the racial make-up of the teams. It was there for all to see. But behind the scenes where the real money is, at a tailgate gathering made up of members of network executives, advertisers, sponsors, sales, marketing, broadcasters and so on, I was hard pressed to find members of the African American community in these positions of power and influence.
How does the African American athlete bring about some of the necessary changes in sports? Consider the two following scenarios. Number one: a top college football prospect who happens to be an African American sitting in his living room with his parents and a coach from State University. After a weekend visit from good old State U. the conversation goes something like this. Coach: "Son, we really would like to have you play. We have a fine academic program and a winning tradition. And it's close to home so your folks can see you play a lot." Player to coach: “Coach, that sounds great and I had a wonderful trip to campus, but it bothers me that there are only two African American coaches on your staff, one on offense and one on defense. And neither one of them is offensive or defensive coordinator. It bothers me that there is only one assistant athletic director in a rather large department. And there are very few African American members on the faculty of good old State U." Scenario number two: A top NFL free agent who happens again to be African American, shopping his services to several NFL teams. He applied the following criteria of the amount of money offered, the possibility of that team making the playoffs and the number of African Americans in positions of authority on that coaching staff, in that front office, and in ownership.
Knowing what we know about business-and sports on all levels it is a major business. Would not these types of statements by African Americans, athletes have a profound affect on the hiring practices of professional teams and universities. With these few words, African American athletes can begin to open doors of opportunities that for whatever reason once closed to African Americans.
Some might ask why such a movement is important for African Americans and society as a whole? The answer is simple. For years we have been told to help our own. To rally our political forces and clout and work within the system to bring about change for our people like so many other ethnic groups have been able to do. For African Americans many social advances can be directly related to advancements in sports.
It has also been said that sports is a microcosm of society, a mirror, reflecting the issues of a larger society. If so, maybe the progress made in sports can serve as a model for society. Therefore, due to our representation on the field of play this seems the most logical place to begin.
The past, present, and future African American athlete must come together with well-defined goals and methods for bringing about change in sports. While the African American athlete of yesteryear can speak of their experiences and realities of life after professional sports, the African American athlete of tomorrow can learn from those experiences and turn and face those realities. However, it is the African American athlete of today who must be the driving force, for they are the ones with the platform and the ability to bring about change. In other words, tomorrow Kellen Winslow may no longer have a platform for which you address these issues. But a Michael Jordan, an Emmitt Smith, a Shaquille O’Neal will have such a platform for some time to come.
We have been challenged time and time again by members of public and private sector both black and white to do something for our own, to stop being a burden on society, seeking handouts and special privileges. Today, I encourage the African American athlete to awaken and join me in accepting that challenge, to awaken and our rightful role in society as leaders. To awaken and accept the responsibility that comes with fame and fortune. To awaken to the realities of the uncertain plight of the African American condition even as we approach the twenty-first century.
It is now with a great deal of humility and with the full appreciation for what the game has given to me. I am pleased to take my place among the greats of the National Football League. To God be the glory.