Political Arena Overshadows Football Arena
While Steve Largent was elected to the House of Representatives last fall, it was another honoree who made the political statement Saturday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Kellen Winslow, the prototype tight end for the San Diego Chargers, blasted opponents of affirmative action and challenged African Americans to make their own opportunities.
The 15-minute segment of his acceptance speech dealing with affirmative action was met by polite but sporadic applause from an overflow crowd that included Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich, seated in the first row in front of the hall’s steps, sat impassively through Winslow’s speech.
Winslow and Largent, a record-setting wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks, were joined in the 1995 class by Tampa Bay defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, team administrator Jim Finks and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Henry Jordan.
“After less than 30 years of a policy that has a proper goal of attempting to induce those who have been excluded for so long, the powers to be have declared it no longer necessary,” Winslow said of an affirmative action policy that is under fire by Gingrich and others.
“To these people, I say take off your robes, leave your ivory towers and Congressional halls and walk the streets of America today. Look into the eyes of the various minorities … and tell them that in spite of the odds before them … that they can overcome these odds because now the playing field is level.”
Gingrich said he intended to contact Winslow this week and arrange a meeting to discuss affirmative action.
Largent, a freshman Congressman from Oklahoma, said earlier that Gingrich had asked him if he could attend the induction ceremony.
Largent, the product of a broken family, talked about his coaches.
“Their influence did more than improve my performance in this great game, it filled a hollowness I could not explain, or even understand,” Largent said. “When a child grows up without a father, there is an empty place where someone must stand, providing an example of character and confidence.
“If no one takes that place a child can live in a shadow all their lives. Their emptiness is often filled by despair, by anger or even violence.”
Largent retired in 1989 with six major receiving records, including 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 100 touchdown catches.
Jordan spent two uneventful years as a backup with the Cleveland Browns, then was traded to the Packers, where he played defensive tackle for 11 years. Over that period, Green Bay won five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls. He died of a heart attack at the age of 42 in 1977.
Finks, the administrator who turned around struggling programs at Minnesota, Chicago and New Orleans, died in 1994 from cancer.
Selmon had 78 sacks and was selected for the Pro Bowl six times during a nine-year career.
Winslow redefined the tight end position, catching 541 passes for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns during his nine years with the Chargers.