Time to honor Iowa’s great black football players with name recognition
Duke Slater, Ozzie Simmons and Calvin Jones deserve something significant named after them
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One popular way to show respect is to name something significant after a person.
Kinnick Stadium, for example, is named after Nile Kinnick, Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner who was killed in 1943 at the age of 24 while serving his country.
The Kinnick Stadium press box is named after former Iowa Athletic Director Paul Brechler, while the Hansen Performance Football Complex is named in honor of Stew and LeNore Hansen, whose $8 million gift to the Iowa Football Legacy Campaign was critical in meeting the financial demands.
The Hansen Football Performance Center includes the indoor practice facility and the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building, a 76,000 square foot football operations center that is named in honor of the Iowa businessman and donor who passed away in 2016 at the age of 79.
The Hansen Performance Football Complex is also located at 992 Evashevski Drive, which is named after former Iowa football coach Forest Evashevski.
And the entire football complex, which includes Kinnick Stadium, the Stew and Lenore Hansen Football Performance Center, and the Ronald D. and Margaret L. Kenyon Football Practice Facility, is called the Hayden Fry Football Complex in honor of former Iowa coach Hayden Fry, and deservedly so.
Every person whose name is affiliated with the Iowa football facilities is very deserving due to their contributions, either on the field, or financially.
But there is one noticeable pattern in Iowa’s history of naming its football facilities, which is all the recipients are white.
When it was first proposed, Kinnick Stadium was supposed to be named Kinnick-Slater Stadium, in honor of Kinnick and Duke Slater, who was a two time All-American at the University of Iowa, a seven time NFL All-Pro, an inaugural member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Slater earned his law degree in 1928 and began to practice law as a Chicago attorney. In 1948, he was elected to the Cook County Municipal Court, becoming just the second African-American judge in Chicago history. Slater served as a Chicago judge for nearly two decades until his death in 1966.
However, the proposal to name the stadium after both Kinnick and Slater was met with some resistance, and a compromise ultimately was reached in which a dormitory was named after Slater.
It seems long overdue for Iowa football to honor some of its most accomplished former black players by naming something significant after them, especially in the wake of this past summer when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities and bullying.
And with February being Black History Month, this is a good time to address the topic.
I’m not suggesting that Kinnick Stadium should be renamed Kinnick-Slater Stadium, or change its name to Duke Slater Stadium.
But I am suggesting that the field should be named after Duke Slater. It would be Kinnick Stadium and Duke Slater Field.
Iowa State used to have a similar setup with Cyclone Stadium and Jack Trice Field. However, the name of the stadium has since been changed to Jack Trice Stadium in honor of Iowa State’s first African-American athlete and the school’s first athlete to die of injuries sustained during a Cyclone athletic competition.
Ozzie Simmons and Calvin Jones are two former Iowa black players who seem worthy of having something named after them.
Perhaps the tunnel that leads the Iowa players on to the field could be named after one of them, or maybe the room at Kinnick Stadium where post-game interviews are conducted could be named after one of them, or part of the North End Zone, or the home locker room, or even the pink visitor’s locker room.
Ozzie Simmons faced so much racism and abuse from opponents while playing running back for the Hawkeyes in the mid-1930s that his suffering led to the creation of Floyd of Rosedale, the bronze statue of a pig that goes to the winning team in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry.
Tensions between fans from Iowa and Minnesota were especially high due to the abuse that Simmons had endured against the Gophers in 1934.
So with the 1935 game approaching in Iowa City, the governors from Iowa and Minnesota, in order to ease tensions, made a friendly wager on the outcome of the game in which the loser would send a hog to the winner.
The original Floyd was a full-bloodied champion hog that Iowa Governor Clyde Herring sent to Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson after the Gophers prevailed 13-6 in Iowa City.
Calvin Jones was a two-time consensus All-American at Iowa, and in 1955, he became the first African-American to win the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.
His jersey number 62, along with Kinnick’s No. 24, are the only retired numbers at Iowa.
So it’s not that Calvin Jones is being ignored.
But it would just be nice to see his name on something significant.
Jones died in a plane crash on Dec. 9, 1956 at the age of just 23.
Jones was from Steubenville, Ohio and the street where his high school is located is named after him.
The Iowa football program has a long and proud history of promoting racial equality.
Slater played at Iowa in the early 1920s when very few blacks were given a chance to participate at the collegiate level.
He represented the Iowa football team, and the university, with pride and distinction.
Slater was a pioneer in many ways, and for that, he deserves to have the playing field at Kinnick Stadium named after him.