Happy Birthday to Ernie Davis, the First African American Heisman Winner

Happy birthday to the first African American to ever win the Heisman trophy, Ernie Davis of Syracuse University.

He never knew his father, and grew up in poverty.

He was known for not only his athletic talent, but his sportsmanship and grace.

He was the victim of many brutal racial taunts and bigotry as a college player. He won the Heisman trophy in 1961. After the Cotton Bowl that year he was named the M.V.P. of the game. However, he was told that he would be allowed to accept his award at the post game banquet, but  immediately he would be expected to vacate the area.  The banquet hall was segregated.

When they found out, the entire Syracuse team boycotted the post game festivities.

After Davis was the number one pick of the draft that year, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. He however, never got to play for the Browns. After getting drafted, he was at a college all star game. He told the Doctors he wasn’t feeling well. Days later he would be diagnosed with Leukemia.

He died in may of 1963. His number 45 was retired by the Browns.

Photo: Syracuse University Digital Library

If Ernie Davis played and lived today, he would have not had to deal with many of the racial injustice he did during his life. People are not perfect when it comes to tolerance, but they are way better than they were in 1963.


Ernie Davis probably would have lived if he had the same condition today, he even might have played football again. His illness would have been detected earlier, and he would have received much better treatment. Doctors, scientists, and researchers have made tremendous progress in the fight against leukemia. For most types of Leukemia today, Doctors say there is a 95 percent chance of survival.

Feel lucky to live in a time where you have a lot better chance to survive if you get sick, and thankful to the researchers, Doctors, and others who have worked to make it that way.

We have gotten better in many ways since the too few days of Ernie Davis, and we need to keep getting better.

Follow the unfinished pyramid at https://twitter.com/unfinishedpyr


3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Ernie Davis, the First African American Heisman Winner

  1. I remember the name due to having athlete brothers but I was only 9. However, i never knew all the rest. Thank you for sharing so we can have hope for more improvements and gratitude for those we can look back and see!


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