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How Richmond Flowers Jr's biggest gift to college athletics wasn't his talent, an untold story

Lately, there has been a wave of political and social justice activism and commentary across the country in various ways by various groups of people but the group that has captivated the country the most is athletes. Many people have taken to the idea that athletes participating in activism is a new phenomenon. History says otherwise.

In this season (literally and figuratively) of social reckoning and changes, it feels necessary to mention one of the least mentioned but most interesting stories that melds social justice and football together. The story of Richmond Flowers Sr and Richmond Flowers Jr in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 

Richmond Flowers Sr became the Attorney General for the state of Alabama at the same time that his son’s athletic talent was being noticed. The elder Flowers became known for his strong stance against racism, particularly for defying Governor Wallace’s crude segregation actions. His son who was becoming a standout high school football player and track athlete was gaining notoriety as “the fastest white boy alive”. The Flowers family faced ample amounts of criticism and even violence. A burning cross was placed in the family’s yard and Flowers Sr was ambushed at his son’s football game with a punch right to the face. 

When it came time to chose which university to attend, Flowers Jr considered the way that his father was being treated and the state of affairs in Alabama, and ultimately chose the University of Tennessee. 

Flowers Jr went on to have a remarkable athletic career at Tennessee. However, what is less mentioned but even more important than his athletic prowess was his ever so slight contribution to equality. While running track for the Vols, Flowers Jr found himself standing next to Jim Green from Kentucky for the national anthem...when they looked up and realized there was no American flag to be found instead, it was a massive confederate flag that was hanging from the ceiling. While talking about it, the two men decided to push for change.

Eight weeks later at the SEC outdoor championships in Tuscaloosa, the two carried out their plan. They presented a petition that requested the American flag be flown at SEC competition instead of the confederate flag. Officials later casually agreed to it. 

Green who went on to become the first black athlete to graduate from Kentucky said, "There were so many Black athletes coming into the SEC then, guys who played football, and it was tough. Those guys played in big stadiums where they got booed and called names, and I ran in stadiums where I got booed and called names. And we just came up with the idea that this had to change."

However, this act largely goes unmentioned in the conversations surrounding race and athletics. While it seems a simple act, Flowers Jr stood for equality during a time when such a thing was not only unpopular but largely ridiculed. Flowers Jr and Green made the SEC more welcoming to ALL athletes.

What a story. 

For more on the story check out the recent piece by The Philadelphia Inquirerhere

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