Passion for Justice

ESPN Tells the Story of Football Team’s 1951 Stand Against Racism

Watch the story of the '51 Dons football team's stance against racism

by Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications

ESPN aired the incredible true story of the USF football team’s stand against injustice and racism in 1951. When the players were asked to leave the team’s two African American players behind in exchange for a berth in the Orange Bowl, they refused.

9-0 record

It was a fateful decision. With a roster that included nine future NFL draftees and Pro Football Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair, and Ollie Matson, the 9-0 Dons were well positioned to make a run at the national championship. The payday for a national bowl appearance could have saved the cash-strapped program. Instead, the team’s decision ended their season and USF’s football program folded at the end of the 1951 season due to a lack of funds.

'Right thing to do'

“We pulled out of the bowl bid because it was the right thing to do, and the only thing to do—we were a family,” said St. Clair, of the team’s principled stance against Orange Bowl executives who told the Dons they had to leave African American teammates Matson and Burl Toler off the roster.

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