Ernest “Ernie” Davis (1939-1963)

Ernie Davis was a running back for Syracuse University and the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. He was awarded the Heisman trophy after his senior year at Syracuse in 1961, a time when discrimination, racism, and segregation were prevalent in America. However, Ernie’s talent was undeniable. President John F. Kennedy had even followed Ernie’s football career and was impressed with his successes. After his college career Ernie was drafted by the Washington Redskins and then traded to the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, Ernie was never able to demonstrate his talents in the NFL. In the summer of 1962 Ernie was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia and he died a year later in 1963, at the young age of 23.

Memorable Quote:

In 1963, President Kennedy sent a telegram recognizing Ernie’s achievements:

“Seldom has an athlete been more deserving of such a tribute. Your high standards of performance on the field and off the field, reflect the finest qualities of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship. The nation has bestowed upon you its highest awards for your athletic achievements. It’s a privilege for me to address you tonight as an outstanding American, and as a worthy example of our youth. I salute you.”

Black History Fact 2/4/2012: Ernie Davis, Syracuse Running Back (1959-1961)

Ernie Davis was an American football running back and the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. Davis competed collegiately for Syracuse University and gained national fame for three seasons (1959-1961), twice winning first-team All-American honors. As a sophomore in 1959, Davis led Syracuse to the NCAA Division I-A national football championship, capping an undefeated season with a 23-14 win over The University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic. (For those of you who don’t know, next to the state of Alabama, in Texas, football is considered religion. The sport is very serious.) Throughout his career, he faced much racism, but overcame it with the help of his team and coaches. 

Davis was the number-one pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, becoming the first African American football player to be taken first overall. Selected by the Washington Redskins, his rights were then traded to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell and a first-round draft choice.However, he did not play a single professional game as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1963. Davis died at the age of 23 in 1963.

Davis’s story is one of great importance. He paved the way for all African American college football players, single handedly breaking racial barriers and stereotypes of black athletes during the Civil Rights Era. Over the past three years, the Heisman Trophy winners have all been African American. Mark Ingram (2009 recipient, University of Alabama), Cam Newton (2010 recipient, Auburn University), Robert Griffin III (2011 recipient, Baylor University) and many others including the great Reggie Bush have Ernie Davis to thank for paving the way for them to receive the highest individual honor in collegiate football. 





In a stunning move the Browns trade Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins for the number one overall Draft Pick, which they use on Heisman Trophy winning Running Back from Syracuse Ernie Davis. However, Davis will never play a down as a preseason physical revealed that he had Leukemia that would kill him within a year, which served as  double blow after the death of promising young Defensive Back Don Fleming. With the tragic stories hanging around the Browns all season the team struggles to a 7-6-1 season. After the season Paul Brown the man who which the franchise is named after was fired and replaced by Assistant Blanton Collier.