KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Historically Black college and university players have had a huge impact on the Kansas City Chiefs, especially the best linebacker in franchise history, Willie Lanier.
Lanier was like many standout college players in the late 60s: school first, football second.
“I was a student at Morgan State College. The most important thing for me to do was to graduate,” Lanier said.
The Chiefs selected Lanier in the second round with the 50th pick in the 1967 NFL Draft.
“Lamar [Hunt] (Chiefs late owner) was a white kid from Dallas, that would go to Black football games and probably be the only white kid there when he was a teenager, so he enjoyed sport. He had the ability to transcend.”
There were many challenges for Lanier and other players from Black colleges during that time.
“The young men from historically Black colleges were going to be caught in this little vice of time, because the time was going to restrict anyway. If you came from the historically Black college, there was the thought that you wouldn’t you know the full market.”
Lanier wasn’t the first linebacker selected in the draft, but once his name was called, he took full advantage of his opportunity with the Chiefs.
“They drafted Jim Lynch two spots ahead of me, but I’m happy that someone said ‘Okay, your name is in play.'”
And play he did, quickly asserting himself as the Chiefs middle linebacker, an uncommon for position for Black players during that time. Lanier was a pioneer.
“Bottom line, he could play the position. He had the intellect to do it and of course you knew it all flew agianst the grain,” said Michael Hurd, author of “Black College Football.”
Lanier was aware of the challenges he’d face and he did not waver, in fact, he fully embraced it on and off the field.
“You’d been dealing with issues that dealt with segregation, dealt with race, dealt with prejudice, so it was nothing new. The reality was that there were others who were attempting to deny you even an equal education. So that denial would of course roll into how do you perform in other tasks if one is denied that which allows the point of equals. So sport, I think always had the opportunity to expand through transparency, opportunity.”
Lanier was an eight time All-Pro and six-time Pro-Bowl selection with the Chiefs. He also had seven tackles and a crucial interception in their Super Bowl IV victory.
He also cemented his legacy off the gridiron, becoming NFL Man of the Year in 1972. Lanier was inducted into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame in 1986 and the College Football Hall-of-Fame in 2000.
Lanier was also on the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams.
His impact on the game cannot be understated.