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Ex-NFL Lineman Shares Inspiring Stories of Perseverance in Athletics


Feb 10, 2024

Former Cincinnati Bengals player Gary Burley has written a book, “Glory, The Struggle for Yards” with Birmingham journalist Donna Francavilla and friend Ralph Brooks. The book tells the stories of five Black men who managed to break barriers in football’s earliest days. These men include Burl Toler, the University of San Francisco football star who became the NFL’s first Black referee, and Charles Follis, the first African American to be paid to play football in the U.S. He also played baseball at the College of Wooster alongside his teammate Branch Rickey, who eventually purchased the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey would later recruit Jackie Robinson, another barrier breaker in baseball.

Burley insists that when the San Francisco 49ers go against the Kansas City Chiefs at this year’s Super Bowl, he just wants to see a good game. Having played in Super Bowl 16 where his Bengals lost to the 49ers, he is now focused on lifting the stories of persevering African American football pioneers to help students. He believes that football is not only educational in terms of learning to play the sport, but also in learning how to be successful in life.

“We wanted to choose a couple that were well known and a couple that were not known and put them together and look at their stories. We found those stories were very fascinating,” says Francavilla. Burley emphasizes that only one experience tops that of playing on sports’ biggest stage- falling in love with his wife and getting married. “And that was, you know, beyond anything that could ever happen. But the Super Bowl was the next thing, the next best thing that could ever happen to me in my life,” says Burley.

By Editor

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