The desegregation of Major League Baseball by Jackie Robinson in 1947 is one of the most prominent events in the popular historical narrative of the United States.

And in the 75 years that the story of the erasure of baseball’s color line has been told, some of the great Negro League players who never got a chance to play Major League Baseball – and without whom the desegregation of the game would have not taken place – have been recognized in varying ways including induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and permanent veneration at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Brud Holland, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, Jackie Robinson: Victims of the NFL Color Line

But the same can’t be said for the many great Black football players who were victimized by the National Football League’s color line which the league has, on multiple occasions, confirmed existed from 1934 to 1945.

During that 12-year period, numerous Black football players who had previously starred for predominantly white big-time college football programs were subsequently barred from playing in the National Football League for the same reason that Negro League players were being excluded from MLB at the same time: the color of their skin.

But unlike Negro League players, who were ignored by the white media and largely unknown to most white Americans, the white press recognized, and in many cases, celebrated Black college football stars in precisely the same way they did white players.

For instance, the same legendary sportswriter whose prose immortalized four Notre Dame college football players as “The Four Horsemen” and Illinois running back Red Grange as “The Galloping Ghost,” Grantland Rice, paid similar tribute to star Syracuse quarterback Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was Black.

In 1938, Rice wrote a flattering poem about Sidat-Singh for his widely-read syndicated newspaper column.

Rice’s poetic tribute, which was titled “The Saga of Sidat-Singh” and referred to the Black college football star as “Syracuse’s Walking Dream,” was printed by hundreds of white newspapers including, remarkably, the Atlanta Constitution.

But despite Grantland Rice, the most famous sports writer of the day, and perhaps of all time, highlighting his greatness as a football player to millions of white Americans, Sidat-Singh’s professional football aspirations met the same, unjust fate as the numerous other Black college football stars who from 1934 to 1945 were victimized by the NFL color line.

Stars like two-time All-American Jerome “Brud” Holland, who, as the first-ever Black football player at Cornell, was on the receiving end of an impossible comeback led by Sidat-Singh that handed Syracuse an improbable victory over Holland’s Big Red on Oct. 15, 1938, (That game was the inspiration for Rice, who was in attendance, to pen his ode to the Syracuse QB.)

Though Cornell’s loss to Syracuse, which was the Big Red’s only defeat of the 1938 season, hardly dampened the enthusiasm of the white sportswriters who subsequently voted Holland, who would go on to become president of Delaware State and Hampton Institute, first team All-American for the second consecutive year.

But such extraordinary honors meant nothing to NFL owners, who barred Holland’s entry to the league just the same.

Then there’s Bernie Jefferson, who was one of Northwestern’s best players from 1936 to 1938.

After Jefferson played a pivotal role on the Northwestern team that won the Big Ten title in 1936, the future war hero with the Tuskegee Airmen led the Wildcats in scoring in 1938, with his most memorable touchdown snapping top-ranked Minnesota’s 21-game winning streak.

Equally if not more impressive was the career of Ozzie Simmons, who was an impossible-to-miss All-American running back for Iowa from 1934 to 1936.

Of all football players ever captured extensively on film, Simmons was one of the earliest, if not the first, offensive player who could score from anywhere on the field at any time.

In his second game as a Hawkeye, Simmons displayed elusivity as a ball carrier that had hardly, if ever, been seen on an American football field as he piled up 290 yards in total offense against then-perennial Big 10 contender Northwestern.

The gravity of Simmons’s performance was best captured by veteran Northwestern coach and Pop Warner protégé Dick Hanley who, after watching the Simmons-led Hawkeyes stampede his team 20-7, said of the Iowa running back: “I have seen and played against a lot of great backs, but Simmons is tops, absolutely the best I have ever seen.”

All-American honors and tragically, racism-fueled physical abuse by opponents awaited Simmons with the latter becoming so brutal that it led to a proposed truce between the governors of Iowa and Minnesota in 1935.

The agreement, which took the form of a rivalry trophy between the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota football teams, eventually resulted in the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy which, to this day, is awarded to the winner of the annual game between the two universities.

That, unlike baseball’s Negro Leaguers, Black football players who clearly would have been stars in the National Football League had it not been for the NFL color line – like Sidat-Singh, Holland, Jefferson and Simmons, among others – have gone entirely unrecognized in that context until now is, obviously, inexcusable.

But when one considers that the most prominent of the star Black college football players who were victimized by the NFL color line was none other than baseball legend, civil rights icon and a Negro Leaguer himself, Jackie Robinson, the oversight is downright unforgivable.

In 1939, eight years before he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was one of the most famous Black Americans in the United States thanks entirely to his transcendent performances as a college football player at UCLA.

That 1939 UCLA team, which also featured the two players who would re-integrate the NFL in 1946, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, was the first team in the white-dominated world of commercial spectator sports in America to be led by multiple Black players.

But even with all of that, the men who represent the football equivalent of baseball’s Negro Leaguers, and who most astonishingly include Jackie Robinson, remain completely unrecognized and unappreciated.