The late Jackie Walker broke numerous major barriers and never gets the credit he deserves for it. In three years with Tennessee football, Walker helped the Vols to a 30-5 overall record and an SEC Championship in 1969.
Walker was also a two-time All-American and a team captain. A born and raised Knoxville product, Walker was a brilliant player. He would call the plays for the defense at linebacker and actually drew three offensive linemen from Bear Bryant when facing the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But Walker’s exploits as a dominant force is only part of his worthiness of being a greater Tennessee football legend. The other half puts him on another level, and that other half also may be the reason he doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
Vols fans hail Lester McClain as the first black player on their team and Condredge Holloway as the first black quarterback in the SEC. But Walker was one of the first three black players to play for the Vols. And he was the first black captain and black All-American for the team.
Still, there’s another level to Walker’s greatness. He was an openly gay football player for a team in the SEC that had just integrated. That’s rare now! Just look at the news Michal Sam made in 2014. Imagine what it was like 45 years earlier. Well, there was really no news about it.
However, we still rarely talk about Walker’s exploits on the field or the fact that he was so gutsy for being a gay black player in the SEC in the early 1970s. And, by the way, he has been suspiciously left out of the College Football Hall of Fame and didn’t get into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame until 2008.
If anybody doesn’t think that’s being underappreciated given his efforts for Tennessee football, they’re crazy. Walker passed away in 2002 and has no business not being a College Football Hall of Famer.