Most 49er fans remember Joe "The Jet" Perry as the first black player on the team. "The Compton Comet" was a little bigger than Frank Gore and literally would burst through the line of scrimmage. Perry was the first player in NFL history to put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at a time when the NFL operated on a 12-game schedule.
Nobody remembers the other black player, a man who was shamed by the team in the only incident I can remember in Niner history that is an embarrassment to the team and the organization. I think it's time it is revealed to Niner fans everywhere so we can appreciate the progress that has been made.
In the last season of the old AAFC (1949), there were 12 black players in the league. The NFL had five. The 49ers had actually played two black players in 1948 and 1949. The second player was a linebacker from UCLA named Bob Mike, who played there along with his good friend, Jackie Robinson. When Mike joined the 49ers he played both left and right tackle both on offense and defense for two years, and played very well.
In July of 1950 the NFL and AAFC merged and the 49ers were interested in expanding their scouting to include the deep South and the East. They made news by appointing Bob Mike as their first black scout to search the country for good black players. Then suddenly in September, he was released! Nobody knew why and the 49ers and owner Tony Morabito were silent.
Finally, Bob was interviewed by a black journalist. He told the story of why and how he had been fired. It seems that he had brought a lady friend to practice and after practice he greeted her. She was a light-skinned black woman whom owner Morabito thought was white. Morabito immediately released him.
When Bob Mike discovered why he had been released (he had had no idea and was mystified), he brought his lady friend with him to Morabito's office for a sit down. He showed Morabito that his light-skinned lady friend was actually a black woman. Morabito was so embarrassed and defensive that the result was a screaming match that nearly resulted in fisticuffs and left the rift between the two wider than when they met. Bob Mike left the meeting furious to never return.
Then, the 49ers made a public statement that shows how far we have come in race relations in the NFL. Head Coach Buck Shaw (most likely at the direction of owner, Tony Morabito) issued the following statement:
"Bob Mike was dropped because he wasn't good enough. He wasn't showing any improvement. We have three new tackles who are better."
I was only about seven or eight years old at the time and I can remember my dad and uncles discussing this. Mike was one of my dad's favorite players, a guy who would go both ways and play the full 60 minutes if necessary. I remember my dad saying, "There's something fishy about this." He was right—it stunk.
Now as we approach what will be my 64th season as a Niner fan, I can honestly say that that was the only time in Niner history that I felt ashamed. I had met Mike at practice and he was a really nice man.
As we approach this season, it is easy to see how much progress has been made. I look forward to us advancing deep into the playoffs this season behind our new leader: Mike Singletary. How appropriate.