The year was 1923 in a much different America than today.
Jack Trice sat in his Minneapolis hotel room alone segregated from his white teammates on the Iowa State football team. He was a sophomore defender and the team’s lone black player.
Trice was the first black athlete in Iowa State history. Besides football he also participated in track. He knew the magnitude of the next day’s game against the host University of Minnesota.
He wrote a letter on the hotel stationary in his room. He addressed it “To Whom It May Concern.”
“The honor of my race, family and self are at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will! My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about on the field tomorrow,” he wrote.
The next day the only black man on the old Northrop Field did just that. Trice broke his collarbone on the game’s second play but stayed on the field and kept playing.
Late in the third quarter, the Minnesota ballcarrier headed up field accompanied by blockers. Trice rolled his body toward the ballcarrier – an unsafe maneuver that is banned from today’s game. Back then a defender could roll toward a ballcarrier in an attempt to trip him. Trice ended up on his back and was trampled by the Minnesota players.
He had to be helped to the sideline. He was taken to the hospital and he died two days later from internal injuries. Minnesota won the game 20-17.
Trice’s fateful letter from his hotel room was found in his coat pocket. Iowa State students lobbied for years to have their Cyclone stadium named in his honor. After a 24-year campaign, the campus stadium was renamed Jack Trice Stadium in his honor. It remains the only major college stadium in America named after a black person.
Jack Trice only played two games for the Cyclones and the first was an exhibition win. The second was the game against Minnesota that cost him his life.
Sometimes players don’t leave their mark by scoring the winning touchdown or making the winning tackle. Sometimes they leave their legacy with their courage.