I learned the story today of Johnny Bright, one of the best football players ever. (Yes, American football). As a senior at Drake University, Bright’s team played against Oklahoma A&M on October 20, 1951 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. On the first play he was on the field, he was attacked by the Aggies’ Wilbanks Smith, who fractured Bright’s jaw with a dirty and devastating blow. The sequence of photos which showed that the injury was result of a deliberate attack and not just a football injury won a Pulitzer Prize for John Robinson and Don Ultang of the Des Moines Register.

Drake and Oklahoma A&M were then part of the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake left the conference shortly after the incident, and Oklahoma A&M became Oklahoma State and joined the Big 12. Of course, this doesn’t prevent the Missouri Valley Conference from trying to rewrite history. Go to the MVC web page about Johnny Bright and you won’t see a trace of this story of brutality. You wouldn’t have the slightest notion that Bright was the first Black player to play football against Oklahoma A&M, or that the attack on Bright was a simple, brutal case of racism played out on the football field.

I’m looking forward to the Hollywood version, so that the story of Johnny Bright won’t be forgotten.

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