The legend and legacy of pioneer NFL player
New book chronicles life of Sherman J. Howard
BY FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
At age 91, Sherman J. Howard is considered the oldest living African-American NFL alumnus.
Howard’s professional football career included playing with the New York Yankees, which later became the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. He was the 13th draft pick from the first draft of African-Americans in the NFL in 1949.
According to the NFL website, Howard played with the Yanks from 1949 to 1951 and the Browns in 1952 and 1953.
While a notable achievement in those days, he dealt with his share of racial discrimination as a Black player.
Vietta L. Robinson, a Chicago native who now lives in Altamonte Springs and owns a holistic health company, recently released a book that chronicles her father’s life – as a legendary NFL player and his life after football in Chicago, where he lives. This is the first book written about Howard.
“Sherman J. Howard: Football and Beyond – The Legend and Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer’’ recounts his years serving on the battlefield during World War II and his life as a trailblazer in college athletics and professional football.
The book shares insight on his faith, mentors, family and a well-regarded 26-year teaching and coaching career.
Six years ago, Robinson found a football card on ebay for $45 and realized the significance of her dad to the sport.
In 2009, she traveled home to Chicago with a tape recorder and a list of questions to ask her father.
From 2009 to 2015, she hired editors and consulted with an historian to develop the book. She noted that most of the people who knew him as a player are deceased.
From Army to college
Howard moved to Chicago with his mother at age 9 from New Orleans. He attended Wendell Phillips High School and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in the segregated armed forces during World War II.
In June 1945, he ran track in the “G.I. Olympics” in London. As a veteran, he took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, best known as the “G.I. Bill” and went to college.
Howard became a standout player at the University of Nevada-Reno. His daughter tells of discrimination he dealt with on the college and the professional level.
“He always had to deal with Jim Crow laws but he had no fears. His mother taught him White folks had a problem not him. He endured a lot of name calling from the stands. There were always racial slurs like “There’s a nigger in the wood pile,’’ Robinson recalls about her dad’s years in football.
She noted that his fondest memories included the quality relationships he developed with his teammates. His Nevada teammates refused to play if Howard wasn’t allowed to play.
“When traveling with his University of Nevada-Reno football team or the NFL team, Black players were not allowed to stay in the hotels. However, there was always a prominent Black person/family in the city they played in who would welcome them into their homes.’’
One of his teammates with the Yankees in 1949 was Tom Landry, who went on to become the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys. They remained friends after their time as players. Landry passed away in 2000.
Howard retired from the NFL with a knee injury in 1954. He went on to teach physical education and coached track, football and basketball at Harlan High School in Chicago for 26 years (1959-1985).
“During those years, he invested his time and energy into the lives of thousands of Chicago youth. His former students honored him last year at a banquet in Chicago for his contribution to their success. This appreciation has been ongoing for many years,” Robinson said.
Robinson said her dad remains in good health with no signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s or CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) brain disease. He lives with his wife of 38 years in a Chicago suburb along with his 30-year old son. Howard also has another daughter.
Dr. Michael Dennis Young, a former Harlan High School student and a former vice chancellor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said this about Howard: “Coach Howard taught us how to play football, but more importantly he taught us how to be men. Men in the sense of living a life of hard work, values and integrity.’’
For more information about the book, visit www.shermanjhoward.com.