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

University of San Francisco Dons 1951 were undefeated. Photo courtesy of USF.

University of San Francisco Dons 1951 were undefeated. Photo courtesy of USF.

Ed Carpenter, USF News

This Sunday, ESPN will air the 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 for a spot in the Orange Bowl, they refused.

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.

“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.

The documentary premiers at 4 p.m. Feb. 9 and will be rebroadcast throughout the month as part of ESPN’s African American history programming.


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