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.