Race Issue shifts All Star Game
From New Orleans to Houston
NY Times headline
January 12, 1965
By D. R. Pedraza
It was a cold day in New Orleans and the fifth Annual American Football League’s All Star Game was set to be played on Saturday, Jan. 16, 1965. The players arrived ready to get some practice time in for the nationally televised event. However, something was terribly wrong in New Orleans.
Civil Rights was a major issue than as is now. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been in place but a few months and the south was much slower in enacting this federal mandate. The act, proposed by President John F. Kennedy, was a far-reaching civil rights bill. It included sections barring racial discrimination in most places of employment and public accommodations and gave the Federal Government new powers to combat discrimination in voting. The bill became law in 1964.
As the players got settled in the Roosevelt Hotel and made their way downtown and to the French Quarter, the black players, (and some white players), found thing less than civil. Cab drivers refused to pick them up, restaurants, and bars refused to let them in. The promoter of the game, David F. Dixon had made “special arrangements” with the taxicab companies and several of the upper-class restaurants and clubs in the French Quarter to accept “Negro players.” When the NY Times reached Mr. Ernie Warlick, the spokesman from the Buffalo Bills, he reacted with this comment: “If we’d been told beforehand that things had been set up for us specially-restaurants and cabs, the shock would have been less. As it was, our treatment was a real slap in the face.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the greatest players in AFL and NFL history, Mr. Ernie Ladd. Mr. Ladd was a major player in the decision to leave New Orleans and go to Houston.
DP: Mr. Ladd, it an honor talking with you. The Times reported that Mr. Dick Westmoreland was with you and Earl Faison, and he was quoted as saying: “Here I was with big men-Ladd weighs 310 pounds and little guys were hurling insults.” Do you remember that incident and could you tell me a little about it?
EL: We could see the hotel after we couldn’t get picked up, and Westmoreland wanted to beat this guy up because he didn’t want that to happen to his teammates. We decided and we just walked back to the Roosevelt Hotel. We made an issue of it, when they refused to pick us up and we just got together at the hotel and said that is it. We made too much money to be treated like that and we were bringing in too much money to the city to be treated like that, so we just got together and we walked out and went back to Houston.
DP: The times said that there were 21 players, twelve on the West squad and nine on the East squad. Do you remember some of those guys?
EL: Yea, I remember all those guys. Sherman Pluncket, Dick Westmoreland, Earl Faison, Abner Haynes, Ernie Warlick. These were black guys. In the French Quarter, I told Earl ‘Lets get out of here.’ The decision was finally made between Earl Faison and I. We and the other guys shared the experience we had earlier in Atlanta and we left.
DP: What about the coaches…. do you remember what they had to say?
EL: We had no concern with the coaches. The coaches couldn’t make us play under those conditions. We were men and we were not going to play under those conditions.
DP: The times also mentioned Ernie Warlick and Jack Kemp.
EL: Jack Kemp was the type of guy you could get support from. You know he wasn’t like everybody. Jack Kemp was a supporter, and he stood behind us.
DP: The New Orleans Mayor of the time, Victor Schilo said, “he regretted the decision to move the game and that it caused grievous injury to a city that was sincerely trying to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” He went on to say that “Black players should have rolled with the punches.” What was or is your reaction to that?
EL: He’s a damn liar. And if he said that he is the biggest racist that ever lived. Any man that makes a statement like that is a racist. That’s the problem; black people have rolled with too many punches. And laky people like him are responsible. And if that’s what he said, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a low life individual. And I can be quoted at this again. If those are his words, he’s a low life individual.
DP: On to something a little more recent, what do you think of the salaries players now demand and do you think that players only play for the money or for the love of the game?
EL: I think that the salary players’ get now is great. They deserve it. I think guys like the All Stars back then made it possible by taking stands. Some are playing for the love of the game, but a lot are playing for the money, plus the fact that you have to deal with agents now. You didn’t have to then.
DP: You went on to a great Pro-Wrestling career. You wrestled the likes of Andre the Giant. What was your most memorable match?
EL: I really don’t know.
EL: Well, one of my all time favorite matches was against Fritz Von Erich in St. Louis MO. And one of the greatest fellows I ever wrestled against, who I enjoyed more than anybody, (else) was Dominic De Moochie. Say, I’ve gotta run, I’m on my way to a Little League Football Game.
DP: I appreciate your time Mr. Ladd.
EL: No problem. God bless you.