Bill Nunn deserves to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and an announcement today brings that one step closer to reality. That's because Bill Nunn was selected as the Contributor Finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.
"I am beyond thrilled to hear Bill Nunn has been selected a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "Bill's contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization. He was a special person who was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work.
"I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame," added Rooney. "His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football, and we are excited he was chosen by the Contributor Committee as a finalist."
Nunn deserves the highest individual recognition available in professional football, in part because of his work in helping the Pittsburgh Steelers change the way the franchise came to be recognized, from "lovable losers" to "dynasty." That metamorphosis happened because the Steelers significantly upgraded the talent on their roster with the additions of players such as L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, and others who came from what today are known as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which for decades were Bill Nunn's area of expertise.
The reason the HBCUs were Nunn's area of expertise is that long before Dan Rooney convinced him to join the Steelers' scouting department, he was the Sports Editor of The Pittsburgh Courier and had made a career of opening the doors to the NFL for a generation of players who otherwise never would have gotten the opportunity at a career in professional football.
Nunn was born into a home where the family business was journalism, at a time when newspapers not only were the primary source of information for most people but also when some newspapers served as watchdogs, as muckrakers when necessary, as promoters of social justice or at least the exposers of social injustice. Nunn's father, William G. Nunn Sr., was the editor-in-chief of The Pittsburgh Courier, which in its heyday boasted a national circulation of 400,000, a Pittsburgh-based newspaper with branch offices in New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
To its readers, the Courier was recognized as one of the most influential black publications in America, and when Nunn was a sports reporter and later the sports editor there he became one of the most influential people in the field of identifying professional athletes-in-waiting. And as a sports journalist, Nunn's beat centered around the historically black colleges, most of which are located in the South.
During the era when The Pittsburgh Courier flourished, Nunn traveled to cover the best football game played between black colleges each weekend, and then at the end of the season he selected what was the definitive Black College Football All-America team. It was a selection committee of one. Having been schooled in journalism by his father; by Wendell Smith, who was with Jackie Robinson daily as he integrated Major League Baseball; and by Chester L. Washington, who started at the Courier as a stenographer before working his way up to sports editor, Nunn's influence in sports grew to be significant.
"When I worked in sports for the Courier, some of my stories were in The Sporting News and the NCAA (publications)," Nunn once said. "I covered so many of the major things, particularly with boxing. I covered Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, Ezzard Charles. I also was putting together the Black College All-America football team, and so I had a lot of contacts at the black schools."
One such example of Nunn's influence came in 1952, more than 15 years before he joined the Steelers, when Wellington Mara, at the time the owner of the New York Football Giants, instructed his team to use its pick in the 27th round of that NFL Draft on Roosevelt Brown, a tackle from Morgan State College. The story goes that Mara held in his hand a copy of The Pittsburgh Courier's All-America team that Nunn had picked when he pointed to Brown's name and told his people, "Take this guy."
Roosevelt Brown went to the Giants as a 20-year-old, where he quickly won a starting job. He held it for 13 seasons, was named an All-Pro for eight straight seasons (1956-63) and in 1975 became just the second offensive lineman to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1961, Nunn alerted the Los Angeles Rams about a defensive end who had played during the 1960 season for Mississippi Vocational College. His name was David Jones, who would come to be known by the nickname, Deacon. It seemed that in 1958 Jones had his football scholarship to South Carolina State revoked because he had taken part in a civil rights protest. After a year of inactivity, Mississippi Vocational offered a scholarship that Jones accepted, but conditions at the school were such that Jones and his African-American teammates slept on cots in the opposing team's gym on road trips because motels and hotels refused them admittance.
It was typical of Nunn that as the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, he would know about the rare athletic ability and the true nature of a man who had been struggling against racism in the pursuit of a career as a professional athlete. The Rams investigated Nunn's tip and "invested" a 14th-round pick in that draft.
David "Deacon" Jones played 14 NFL seasons, and he missed just five of a possible 196 regular season games. Jones was a unanimous All-Pro defensive end for the six seasons from 1965-70; he played in seven straight Pro Bowls, from 1965-1971, and was selected to an eighth in 1973. As a member of the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line, Jones is the man who first used the term "sack" to describe tackling a quarterback as he is attempting to pass. Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.
In February 2010, in conjunction with Black History Month that year, Bill Nunn was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The other members of that inaugural class included genuine legends of the sport, from Deacon Jones and Willie Lanier and Walter Payton and Tank Younger, to Coach Eddie Robinson.
The Contributor Committee, comprised of nine members of the Hall of Fame's Selection Committee, considers individuals who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching. The list of eligible 2021 Contributor nominees was reduced to 10 Semifinalists who were considered today. Five of the nine members (determined on a rotating basis) on the committee met to discuss each of the candidates and selected the finalist.
Two consultants assisted the Selectors this year, providing additional insights on the candidates. One was a longtime front office executive for several NFL teams; the other was an NFL historian and longtime League executive.
To be elected to the Hall of Fame, Nunn must be approved by 80 percent of the entire 48-member Selection Committee, which will meet on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. Also on the ballot that day will be the 15 Modern-Era Finalists, the Senior Finalist (Drew Pearson), the Coach Finalist (Tom Flores), and Nunn, the Contributor Finalist.