Tennessee Football: Former Gay Vol Jackie Walker Belongs in CFB Hall of Fame


Former Tennessee football linebacker Jackie Walker played for the Volunteers as a gay man and died in 2002. He is up for the college football Hall of Fame.

The Tennessee Vols have 23 people in the College Football Hall of Fame. This year, three more are up: Larry Seivers, who played for the Vols in the late 1970s, Peyton Manning, which is an unprecedented move given how recently he played for the Vols, and a player who should have been in long ago, who broke down barriers long before they were even considered barriers.

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Long before Michael Sam, there was Jackie Walker.

A gay man playing for the Vols in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was hard enough for Walker to deal with being a black player in the SEC as it was still struggling to accept integration at the time, let alone dealing with the prejudice of his sexuality.

But in a part of history the Vols should be proud of, they elected Walker captain of their team in 1971, becoming the first school in the SEC to elect a black captain. How ironic is it that they were electing a gay captain in doing that too?

That’s right, in 1971 no SEC school had elected a black captain of their football team, and the Vols elected a black gay man.

Breaking down two major barriers like that alone is not reason enough to put Walker in the Hall-of-Fame. His resume on the field, though, does.

From 1969 to 1971, Walker played for a Tennessee football program that was extremely successful. He recorded 11 interceptions in his career, three sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and 158 tackles.

A small linebacker, Walker was one of the early players to use speed and skill to dominate at that position.

His dominance led him  to become a two-time All-American. For context, only one former Vol who can go as far back as Walker or further has not made the Hall-of-Fame despite being a two-time All-American: Ted Daffer. But Daffer was a physical player who clearly benefitted from playing next to studs on the line like Doug Atkins, and his failed NFL career proved that.

Sure, Walker only played one year in the NFL, but there is strong reason to believe that he was cut by the San Francisco 49ers for being gay.

Meanwhile, he is still tied for an NCAA record with five interceptions returned for touchdowns. A record like that along with being a two-time All-American has to be enough to get in. Add in the barriers he broke down, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in.

His status as a great teammate also counts for something. Don’t believe it? Just ask is former teammates, including Phillip Fulmer and Tim Priest.

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Unfortunately, Walker died of AIDS in 2002. He never got to see his legacy revived, as America was still hardly willing to accept homosexuality.

But this is now 2016, and his legacy has been revived in Knoxville. It’s time to do the same thing on a national level. College football needs to do the right thing.

Walker was up for the Hall of Fame in 2014 and 2015 but did not get in. If his resume does not get him in, nothing should get anybody in.