Gorman: Nunn a Champion for Change

Article excerpt

Bill Nunn used an eye for talent and his influence as sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier to champion a cause, one that changed both college and pro football forever.

When the Black College Football Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class Saturday in Atlanta, Nunn was among the 11-member class that included coaching giants Eddie Robinson of Grambling and Jake Gaither of Florida A&M and players such as Deacon Jones, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice.

Not bad for a guy who didn't play or coach college football.

"I really considered it an honor," Nunn said, "not so much for me as for the paper that I represented for so long and, to a large degree, a lot of the guys who played black college football before they could get into the league."

The next trip for Nunn, 84, a Steelers scout since 1967, should be to Canton for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His promotion of black college football opened doors for some of the game's greats.

A Homewood native and Westinghouse graduate, Nunn was a high school teammate of Chuck Cooper, the first black player drafted by the NBA. Nunn played basketball at West Virginia State with Cooper and Earl Lloyd, the first black man to play in an NBA game.

Upon graduation, Nunn joined the Courier, the city's crusading black newspaper, which once boasted a circulation of 400,000. He was the ghostwriter for its "Jackie Robinson Says" columns and for 25 years served as a one-man selection committee for its Black College All-America team.

"He gave us exposure," said Donnie Shell, whom the Steelers signed as a free agent out of South Carolina State in 1974. "You look back at the picture, and a lot of guys wouldn't have made it if not for him. What a great legacy, to have opened that door.

"He had some extraordinary gifts. Along with being a writer and communicator, he had the gift of identifying talent. When Bill was scouting, you'd find some diamonds in the rough in black colleges."

Nunn also has a magnetic personality and used it to build relationships in black college football amid segregation in the 1950s and '60s. …