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Eddie Macon, first African-American to play for the Bears, dies at 90

Eddie Macon, who in 1952 became the first black player in Chicago Bears history, has died. He was 90.

Born in 1927, Macon joined the Army as soon as he turned 18, just as World War II was ending, and was stationed in Japan for seven months. When he returned home he enrolled at the University of the Pacific, where he would recall years later that he was mostly treated well as the school’s first black football player.

An exception to that, however, came when the team traveled to face LSU. Macon made the trip thinking he would play in the game, only to find out when he got there that LSU refused to play against a black player. Pacific’s team was also repeatedly refused service at restaurants because Macon was there, and when the team could finally dine together Macon was forced to use a back entrance.

You never get used to that,” Macon recalled in 2005. “It’s demeaning.”

After three seasons at Pacific, Macon was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 1952 NFL draft. As the only black player on the Bears he would say later that he was generally treated well, though there were some exceptions.

“I had no problems with the fans,” Macon said. “The team that I really had problems with was the Detroit Lions. They beat me in the face, twisted my legs. When I got in a pile, I tried to come out of that pile because I knew what they were going to try to do.”

Macon chose to leave the Bears after two years and play for his Pacific coach, who had taken a job in the Canadian Football League. That infuriated Bears owner George Halas, and as a result the Bears for decades did nothing to honor their first African-American player.

After quitting football in 1955 to become a longshoreman, Macon changed his mind and returned to the CFL in 1957, played three more seasons there, and then joined the upstart American Football League in 1960, where he was an All-Pro defensive back for the Raiders.

Macon retired from football the following year and returned to work as a longshoreman. He said in an interview four years ago, “I had the dream and lived the dream.”

Macon is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of 71 years, Jessie, as well as four children, 12 grandchildren, “more than three dozen” great-grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren.

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15 Responses to “Eddie Macon, first African-American to play for the Bears, dies at 90”
  1. bchap17 says: Apr 22, 2017 6:42 AM

    1952. We’re only a generation removed. Crazy to think…

    Godspeed, Eddie.

  2. streetyson says: Apr 22, 2017 7:22 AM

    Btw – George Taliaferro was the Bears’ first black draftee, in 1949, but he opted to play elsewhere.

    One could hardly blame Macon for going to the less-racist Canadian league. But Halas didn’t just refuse to honor Macon, he sued him for $100k and blackballed him from the NFL (which stopped him signing with 9ers or Browns – which is why he later went to the Raiders then in the AFL).

    The suing was part of a then all-out player/revenue/ratings war between the NFL and CFL – Halas was also suing the same team (Hamilton) for $150k and over several over players. Basically, NFL owners were bullying the CFL out of trying to rival the NFL. Mostly settled out of court.

    Although Macon was cherished by the Raiders, the Bears finally started to recognize Macon in Black History Month only last year. Which proves that when Halas said “If you live long enough, lots of nice things happen” – he meant only if you’re a rich bully.

  3. milkcan44 says: Apr 22, 2017 7:35 AM

    The guy must have had talent to turn it off and on like that.

  4. fartsmella says: Apr 22, 2017 7:41 AM

    RIP Eddie

  5. dcsince77 says: Apr 22, 2017 7:54 AM

    Rest in peace Mr. Macon. You paved the way for many to follow. What you went through should never be forgotten. Thank you!

  6. staffordisbetterthanyourteamsqb says: Apr 22, 2017 8:05 AM

    Hopefully every one of you morons who’s against things like affirmative action and the Rooney Rule read this post and it made you realize that not very long ago in our nations history black people were treated this way. If you think it only takes four or five generations for these kind of attitudes to be erased and that black people are actually treated equally and fairly today then you should probably have you heads examined

  7. dallasskinsfan94 says: Apr 22, 2017 8:50 AM

    Wouldn’t surprise me if there is still a few places in Louisiana or the 2 states to the east where they’d still deny him service…

  8. birdsfan718 says: Apr 22, 2017 8:53 AM

    Great story. Great man. This man needs a movie made about his life!

  9. selldannysell says: Apr 22, 2017 9:22 AM

    May he rest in peace. Thank you for paving the way for future generations of football players of all colors. We’ve come a long way. All of the thumbs down I’m seeing shows that we still have a long way to go.

  10. 1pavikingfan says: Apr 22, 2017 10:30 AM

    RIP Eddie.

  11. nyneal says: Apr 22, 2017 10:36 AM

    staffordisbetterthanyourteamsqb says:
    Apr 22, 2017 8:05 AM
    Hopefully every one of you morons who’s against things like affirmative action and the Rooney Rule read this post and it made you realize that not very long ago in our nations history black people were treated this way. If you think it only takes four or five generations for these kind of attitudes to be erased and that black people are actually treated equally and fairly today then you should probably have you heads examined
    ________________________________________

    Fair enough. I think the Rooney Rule is a good rule. And sometimes black people aren’t treated fairly today, too.
    But — there are many black people who have been on “the system” for decades and make little effort to straighten out what they can control, too.
    And blacks aren’t alone in being treated unfairly, either. Women and senior citizens come to mind, immediately.
    And cops — of all colors are painted with a broad brush, too, regardless of how well they do their jobs.
    Here’s where I stand on all of this. I will stand with anyone who plays by the rules and tries to better themselves and their families. But I will stand against those who don’t do that and blame “society” or “the government” for problems they cause themselves.
    I am a white guy in my 60’s. We grew up relatively poor because my dad was in the Army and he and my mom had 6 kids. My dad always told us we should stand on our own two feet and make something of ourselves, even it meant working 2 jobs. He had little time or patience with those who weren’t willing to do that.
    I remember applying for a job at McDonalds when I was 16. My dad told me he expected to see my name and picture on their “employee of the month” wall at some point. That always stuck with me.

  12. Lou Zerr says: Apr 22, 2017 11:03 AM

    RIP black bear

  13. footballfan72 says: Apr 22, 2017 2:32 PM

    RIP Mr Macon. Sad that you and other athletes of color were treated as second class citizens in a time when Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson and many others showed Caucasian men and women what dignity and respect with class should look like.

  14. dontstabmeray says: Apr 22, 2017 6:56 PM

    Great movie, Eddie Macon’s Run.

  15. voiceofrealism says: Apr 22, 2017 7:59 PM

    Celebrating someone because of their color only perpetuates racism. I’m sorry if he was treated unfairly, but you can’t fix that by shoving it in my face every other minute. Making up rules that force you to hire Black people is racist, and gives the impression that they aren’t equal and need special rules in order to get hired.

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