From Ed “Too Tall” Jones to Darius Leonard, the NFL has been graced with rare talents of athletes from historically Black colleges and universities.
However, the steady trickle of stars from HBCUs to the NFL has clogged over the years due to a litany of reasons. The NFL and several HBCUs have aimed to widen the pipeline by partnering to provide more and consistent opportunities to pro football behind the HBCU Open House, which is staged annually by the NFL.
“The event was timely and strategic,” said Jacqie McWilliams, commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), one of three conferences in attendance. “It confirmed that over the past two years that there have been intentional efforts to support and identify opportunities with the HBCU conferences collectively. I appreciated the NFL Football Operations team creating space for thought leaders to share and be heard while identifying shared values to support meaningful opportunities that bring value, and added value, to both organizations.”
In 2020, 32 players from HBCUs made an NFL roster. However, the number for this season is uncertain because final rosters remain fluid until late next week. Other conferences at the Open House included the CIAA, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA).
“The NFL is one of the best in branding and telling stories,” McWilliams stated. “We both recognize there is a need for more Black and Brown professionals in the industry. HBCUs have one of the strongest recruiting bases for talent. HBCUs’ traditions and values align perfectly in assisting with focused programming on student development, career exposure and networking. It is always our goal to increase opportunities for students and athletic administrators from our HBCU institutions and the power of the NFL will assist in providing access and opportunities.”
Like any athlete from an HBCU or any other conference, players won’t all become Steve McNair, Shannon Sharpe or Michael Strahan. However, the Open House can allow players to pursue jobs in the NFL, from communications to analytics to accounting, which all play a part in operating within a franchise.
“There is strength and power in creating an HBCU platform for all four conferences with the NFL,” McWilliams said. “My hope is that we can brand and market the rich legacy and tradition of players in the NFL, that we build on the leadership through the programs available, and we are intentional in identifying ways to impact our communities through the programs and beyond in our HBCU footprint.”