Remembering Bill Nunn Jr., A Legend in Pro Sports and Racial Integration
Last week saw the passing of a Pittsburgh sports legend. When Bill Nunn, Jr. first started writing for the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1960's, he was not allowed in the press box at Forbes Field. His annual selections for the black All-American football teams were ignored by the struggling Steelers.
Nunn overcame numerous racial barriers during his lifetime. He opened sports reporting for African-Americans and helped turn the perennially awful Steelers into a dynasty during the 1970’s.
Conte said Nunn was a talented athlete who received an offer to try out for the New York Knicks and the Harlem Globetrotters. He decided to follow his father into newspaper reporting, with the hopes of more financial stability, but many barriers.
“In May 1950, Jackie Robinson had been in the majors for three years at that point, and Bill still couldn’t go to the press box at Forbes Field because he was black," Conte explained.
"In 1950, finally, up to that point he had to buy a ticket, sit in the stands and file his stories from there. They relented, and if there was a black player on the field, so if the Dodgers were in town, the New York Giants, or the Braves, then Bill Nunn could sit in the press box. Otherwise he still couldn’t sit there.”
Nunn is best known for his work with the Steelers, for whom he served as a scout from the late 1960’s until his passing. Nunn had connections to numerous historically black colleges, and helped the Steelers draft players such as John Stallworth, who were ignored by other NFL teams.
“When you look at the Steelers dynasty of the 1970’s, one of the things that put them over the top was Bill Nunn and being able to find so many great players that were being overlooked up to that point,” said Conte.
Bill Nunn Jr. died Tuesday May 6, at the age of 89.