NFL alum Bob Grant (Colts, WFT; 1968-71) will receive the prestigious NCAA Inspiration Award this week in Indianapolis at the annual NCAA Convention.
Grant was one of the first Black student-athletes to enroll at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC in 1964. His presence there helped overcome racial obstacles and paved the way for changes in society in the South. He and his two Black teammates became among the first to integrate football In the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“If I inspired anyone in my life,” says the 75-year old Grant, “it’s because there were so many people who inspired me. There always is only one name on a plaque like the one I will receive from the NCAA but no one person gets there without the support and assistance of a lot of other people. In my case, I can probably name a few hundred people who have played a role to help me. It’s a little embarrassing.”
Grant started playing football at Georgetown High School in Jacksonville (NC). Although he was an outstanding defensive player, he thought his choices for college were limited to major universities up North or one of the historically black colleges in the South. A conversation with his high school coach changed his football career…and his life.
“My coach was Gideon Johnson and he was one of the first Black men to serve after our military was integrated in the late 40s,” Grant recalls. “He told me nearby Wake Forest planned to begin integrating its athletic teams and that I was going to attend college there. In those days, you didn’t question authority figures. I didn’t particularly want to go to Wake Forest but I didn’t tell him that. He told me I could do it and that I was the man to help integrate the program.”
His two Black teammates who enrolled with Grant left Wake Forest after one year, but he stayed. It was not always an easy life off-the-field.
“I was fortunate to play well at Wake,” says Grant “but there still were only about 20 people on campus who were comfortable talking to me and the other few Blacks who came after I started there. Fortunately, by my senior year, things started opening up and I could attend some of the social events.”
Fortunately, Grant’s play on the field also impressed NFL scouts. He was selected by the Colts on the second round of the 1968 Draft. He was a member of Baltimore’s 1968 team that lost in that Super Bowl to Joe Namath and the Jets. However, the 1970 Colts won Super Bowl V and Grant proudly wears that ring on special occasions.
Bob Grant inspired many young athletes growing up in the South when he had the courage to enroll at Wake Forest. Today, he assists some older NFL players who helped build the league through the Retired NFL Players Congress.
We at NFL Alumni congratulate Bob Grant on his major NCAA award this week and salute him and all of you who are helping your NFL brothers around the country.