Prentice Gautt: A Man Whose Accomplishments Should Inspire Today’s Collegiate Athletes

By Gregory Moore
Updated: August 27, 2006

SAN ANTONIO “When it comes to the quiet voices in sports, probably no one fits this mold any better than Prentice Gautt. Dr. Gautt is remembered by friends and family for his accomplishments but this football season, the Oklahoma University family will remember him by having the helmets of this season’s players sport a “38″ decal on them in his remembrance.

But who is Prentice Gautt and why is he getting such an honor? To know that answer, you need to travel back to an era that not many Americans are proud of and that is the era of segregation. It was during this era that Brown v. Board of Education was successfully fought by a young Thurgood Marshall. That historic case took place in 1954.

The emergence of that win helped propel a young Gautt into the history books of a state that may not have been ready for integration at that time and to have a young African American play sports and succeed at a traditionally all-white school was virtually unheard of. But as many articles, and entries show, Gautt’s achievements at the high school and collegiate levels were indeed historic in themselves.

Prior to Gautt going to OU, he had made an historical mark at the high school level. At Douglas High School, in his first game he helped the team win 13-6. He was also the first African American football player to play in the high school all-star game.

When he got to Oklahoma, coach Bud Wilkinson did the historic thing of allowing Gautt on the team. Like Don Haskins would do at Texas Wesleyan some nine years later with his decision of starting five African Americans in a basketball game, Wilkinson’s decision paid off with a national title in 1956 and produced a running back that averaged numbers unheard of to this date.

As written in many web pieces, Gautt went on to play seven years in the NFL for the St. Louis Cardinals (that’s now the Arizona Cardinals) and later became very active at the collegiate level. He received his doctorate’s degree from the University of Missouri and was the associate commissioner of the Big 8 conference from 1979 until 1996, when that conference was dissolved.

That conference was merged with the Southwest Conference and is the Big 12, as we know it. Upon that merger, Gautt took the role of associate commissioner.

Many who have known him over the years remember Dr. Gautt fondly. A few follow teammates and admirers e-mailed me to let their voices be heard about the kind of man Dr. Gautt was.

John Hadl, from Kansas University athletics, wrote to me saying: “Greg, when I visited the University of Oklahoma on my official visit, Prentice was my host. He was the nicest, most considerate person I’ve ever been around. Later in life we became good friends through his work for the Big 8 and the Big XII and my work at KU. He was a God fearing, wonderful person and is missed by all.”

Another person who got to know Dr. Gautt well was his teammate, Jim Hart. Jim played 19 seasons in the NFL and wrote the following about his former teammate: “Prentice was a Gentle…man! He was one of the hardest working people I have ever run across. A nice man”!

“The most memorable feeling I have for Prentice was that he was one of the most Christ-like people I have ever met. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I am a better person for having known Prentice Gautt.”

Finally, Abner Haynes chimed in the other day about his experiences in knowing the former Sooner.

“I new him as we did not have many black players in the Southwest at the time, Only OU and North Texas. “PG” was a class act from day one,” Haynes said via e-mail.

A LIFE THAT SHOULD BE A SHINING EXAMPLE FOR BLACK PLAYERS Dr. Gautt’s collegiate and professional careers are indeed extraordinary but what should be a shining example to many African American football players in today’s society is how Dr. Gautt conducted himself off the gridiron.

Think back about the time in which he played in. Segregation was so real that even today I have older friends who continuously remind myself and others about how they didn’t have this luxury or couldn’t shop in this store.

“Today’s athletes are a bunch of spoiled divas,” one friend told me a while back.”They couldn’t handle the adversity of being told that you can’t stay in this hotel or hearing, “Boy, I don’t care how much money you got, we don’t sell cars to Nigger people”. Today’s hot heads would be beaten down and thrown up under the jail cell.”

When it comes to the conduct that today’s athletes have, I’d have to concur with this friend in his assessment. Today’s athletes, whether they are at the collegiate or professional level, have it so much easier than Dr. Gautt and others did during their playing days”.

They have it so much easier and yet they are throwing it all away just as easy. Look at the actions of Koren Robinson and Adam “Pacman” Jones as prime examples. Look at their actions. How can anyone be proud of those two young men at a time when it seems as if the only character issues forthcoming are coming from Black athletes?

But Gautt was a man who was probably as humble as he was forgiving. To survive during an era in which he played his collegiate and professional ball, Dr. Gautt had to be strong willed yet flexible in his tact. He had to be diplomatic at all times and from what his former friends, colleagues and teammates say about him, it was his faith in God that brought him through such adversity.

It is the type of life that really should be modeled by these young men of today and it is just one of many life stories that are out there for them to emulate and to have success in their football careers.

REMEMBRANCE SHOULD BE ONGOING As great as the upcoming event will be in Norman this year, I have to wonder if any of the OU players will take those festivities to heart. Will Adrian Peterson realize that if it weren’t for Dr. Gautt, he may not even be where he is today on that football team?

Will Paul Thompson forever thank Dr. Gautt posthumously for being a beacon of hope in a state where racial issues are not quite as resolved as many want to believe. And what about many other African American players coming OU’s way or playing at the high school level.

Do the parents of these young men understand the importance of Dr. Gautt’s achievements and why it is important to strive and be academically successful as well as athletically successful on the playing field. Will these parents understand why it is so important to have positive role models like Dr. Gautt for their young athletes to admire and then help them achieve their own dreams by using his life and the lives of others as the guiding rails to success?

Dr. Gautt’s remembrance should be more than just a Homecoming event on Oct. 21st of this year. It should be more than just a sticker on the back of a football helmet. It should be about celebrating the accomplishments one man did in the changing of a world where racism was very much prevalent but yet he did his own civil rights movement without any marches or sit downs.

For his 1956 teammates, this day should be a chance to remember that they stood with Prentice Gautt during a very hellacious time. They too took a stance against racism. They were courageous in doing so because they looked upon him as a teammate; not just a Black kid who needed protection.

For the rest of us, we need to look at what Dr. Gautt did at Oklahoma and realize that he helped open some doors at a school that may not have wanted to do so until possibly the mid 1960s. But for whatever reason OU allowed this historic change to take place, everyone is better off for it.

So this season, as you watch the Sooners play against their rivals, let’s all remember that when we see #20 running for the end zone, let’s say thank you to #38 for allowing #20 to take that fame and glory.

Here’s to Prentice Gautt; a man who’s courage both on and off the field has shaped the lives of many young African Americans and continues to remind us of why we need to fight against the chains of racism as a whole; no matter what your ethnicity or color may be.