This year’s NFL draft was exciting for many but enraging for others. The fact that absolutely no HBCU players were drafted has upset HBCU players, coaches, families, prospects, and even Hall-of Famers like former Southern University and A&M College player Harold Carmichael. Learn what Carmichael had to say in the recent Sports Illustrated article by Clark Judge below.
When players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) were shut out from this year’s NFL draft for the first time in over a decade, Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders – now the head football coach at Jackson State — was appalled.
“NEGLECTED AND REJECTED,” he tweeted.
The caps are his, not mine. And they reflect his outrage that, among 259 players drafted, not one was from an HBCU program. But Sanders wasn’t alone. Plenty of others joined the outcry, including former Grambling State quarterback Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
He called it “a travesty.”
Well, now you can add newly-minted Hall-of-Famer Harold Carmichael to the chorus. A walk-on at Southern University, Carmichael was a four-year starter at wide receiver before the Philadelphia Eagles made him a seventh-round draft pick in 1971 – a year when 55 HBCU players were chosen.
By 2019, however, that number had dwindled to four, and in 2020 it was down to one – or one more than this year.
“It’s very, very troublesome to me to see that happen,” Carmichael said Tuesday on a Zoom call with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, a lot of the big-time ballplayers were coming out of the HBCU teams.”
He’s right about that. Walter Payton was one. Mel Blount was another. So was Donnie Shell. And Art Shell, Willie Lanier, Deacon Jones, Willie Davis, Emmitt Thomas, Jackie Slater, Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner … and Harold Carmichael. All played on HBCU teams, and all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But that was then, and this is now. And now the number of HBCU players entering the NFL through the draft is down to a trickle, with Tennessee State tackle Lachavious Simmons the last HBCU draft pick. The Chicago Bears chose him in the seventh round of the 2020 draft with the 227th selection.
So what happened? Nobody is certain, though the COVID pandemic that canceled the 2020 season for most HBCU programs is offered as an explanation. Players simply didn’t have an opportunity to showcase their talents.
And that’s a shame because the talent is there. In 2017, for instance, the Houston Texans took Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard with the 23rd pick. One year later the Indianapolis Colts’ made South Carolina State linebacker and future All-Pro Darius Leonard a second-round choice. Moreover, according to the Washington Post, during the 2020 NFL season there were 29 HBCU players who started.
“I was really sad to hear the past couple of weeks about no HBCU players drafted in this year’s draft,” Carmichael said. “There are a lot times when a lot of the guys from HBCU teams fall through the cracks. There are a lot of good football players there, but I don’t think a lot of NFL football teams really respect that.
“They send guys there, but the guys wink at it and they go home, not really putting a lot of focus on the players. I’ve watched a couple of the HBCU games the past season, and you see some good ballplayers there. But people just want to go to the big schools.”
Carmichael didn’t, and look what happened. He’s part of the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020. He’s also part of a fraternity of HBCU supporters who believe this year’s shutout is more an aberration than a trend and that HBCU rookies will make an impact this season and the years beyond – draft or no draft.
“The free agents that were picked up by some of those teams,” he said of undrafted HBCU rookies, “I guarantee some of those will make it before some of those draft choices will.”