The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


LeVias looks back at breaking color barrier in SWC

The sixties were a turbulent time in America. Segregation was rampant in the Deep South, and Jim Crow’s reach extended into virtually all aspects of society, including college athletics.

In the Southwest Conference, black athletes were prohibited from participating in college sports, but forty years ago, two men from SMU took a stand and changed the landscape of athletics forever, Jerry LeVias and Hayden Fry.

Fry was a new head coach hired to help a suffering Mustang football team and LeVias was a new recruit from Beaumont.

When LeVias joined the squad in 1965, he became the first black player to receive an athletic scholarship at SMU, as well as the first in the Southwest Conference and in the Deep South. Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of LeVias’ first start at SMU.

Fry was an assistant coach at Arkansas when SMU began pursuing him for the head coach position for SMU’s football team in 1962. Fry wanted more from SMU than just a coaching job, he wanted to recruit black athletes.

“I made a deal with them, let me recruit a black player and I’d be interested in the job,” Fry said in an interview published on

While SMU was reluctant at first, the school agreed to let Fry recruit one black player. What Fry didn’t know was that his new recruit had to have an SAT score of at least 1,000. White players in the SWC only had to have a 750 to play on the teams.

LeVias had the academics to meet SMU’s requirements, but at 5’9” and 177 pounds, LeVias was small for a football player, but he overcame his lack of size with his greatest asset, speed.

From early on LeVias overcame adversity. When he was 12, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to walk for five years.

When LeVias met Fry, he had never heard of SMU and didn’t even know where it was located, but said Fry was very charming and made a big impression on his parents and his grandmother.

“After my grandmother met him, she told me ‘There’s something godly about that man,'” he said.

LeVias said as a teenager he was aware of the Civil Rights Movement and the work blacks were doing in the South to gain equal rights, but didn’t see his recruitment as an extension of that.

“I’m not a brave man. I wasn’t about to go fight off dogs, get spit at or called the n word,” LeVias said. “I can’t tell you why I chose to go to SMU, other than the impact Hayden Fry had on my parents.”

When Fry met the LeVias family, he did not discuss the racial implications of LeVias’ playing at SMU, and instead emphasized the academic excellence of SMU, and LeVias’ ability to get a good education.

When LeVias got to the Hilltop, he said it was like “being a fly in milk,” but was expected to pass his classes and maintain his commitment to the football team.

“I was just another student, I had to pass my classes. Willis Tate [SMU president] did not go out of his way to treat me differently,” said LeVias.

LeVias said the academic standards for football players were high, and professors made football players sit in the front of the classroom.

“The professor would ask ‘are there any football players in the class?’ And I couldn’t hide,” he said.

LeVias jokingly said he helped improve students’ punctuality to classes because white students did not wanted to sit by him.

“SMU was a great environment for a college student, but it was a tough environment for a black college student,” LeVias said.

No one would be his roommate, and his only activities were class and football practice. LeVias said he got a great academic education, but missed out on a social education and the college experience his classmates received.

Football practice wasn’t much better for LeVias. Some of the assistant coaches did not want him on the team, and most of his teammates had never played with a black player before. LeVias said he “took quite a beating from some teammates.”

LeVias said while he faced many challenges, Fry did too.

“He took a lot of flack from people. The students didn’t want it, the alumni didn’t want it, nobody thinks about what he had to go through,” LeVias said.

LeVias added Fry was always a source of encouragement in his endeavors, and helped him handle the aggressions of his critics.

“Coach Fry told me one time, ‘If you don’t want them to get your goat, don’t show them where it’s hidden,'” he said.

LeVias said he never could show his feelings about the challenges he faced, but once he took the field, he let his playing speak for itself.

In his time at SMU, LeVias made athletic and academic All-American teams. He contributed to the Mustangs first SWC title in 18 years during the 1966 season. He is still in SMU record books for the 15 passes caught against Ohio State in 1968, and 1,131 receiving yards in 1968, the same year he finished fifth in Heisman balloting.

LeVias said his success on the field quieted some critics but further angered others.

“What we did at SMU was historical,” LeVias said. “The door is open now” for black athletes.

LeVias added when other coaches began to see his success on the field, they realized they had to expand their recruitment to include blacks.

“We took the blinders off of them,” he said.

Current football coach Phil Bennett agrees.

“What they did was bold,” Bennett said. “It’s not different than Rosa Parks or anybody else who fought for desegregation.”

Bennett added athletics, particularly at SMU, had a major part in desegregation in the South and said it was admirable of Tate’s administration to take the steps to bring LeVias to SMU. He said the tradition continues now with his team.

Bennett said, the SMU administration has allowed him to recruit players who are “academically at risk,” many of whom are minorities, and the athletic department gives the students not only the opportunity to play football, but to also get an education.

Last year, SMU was awarded the American Football Coaches Association’s 2006 Academic Achievement Award for graduating all members of the 2000-2001 freshmen class.

LeVias said at the time, he didn’t realize the impact his time at SMU would have on college athletics. In retrospect, he said he realized how much pressure really was on him to succeed.

“If I had failed, it would have set things back,” LeVias said. “But now football has helped people adjust to equal rights. Sports has had a major contribution to desegregation.”

After LeVias left SMU, he joined the Houston Oilers, where he played professional football and won rookie of the year in 1969.

When he retired from football in 1974, he worked in gas distribution before starting his own marketing service company. LeVias now lives in Houston and is a marketing consultant.

LeVias said sometimes he cannot believe all that he has accomplished when he was at SMU.

“It’s like a made for TV movie, like one of those ‘Rudy’ stories,” he said.

While he attends many events at SMU, LeVias will make a special trip to the Hilltop Nov. 9, Homecoming weekend, to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is the highest and most prestigious award SMU bestows upon alumni.

“Getting this award makes me feel like Moses,” LeVias said. “After forty years, I’m getting the Distinguished Alumni Award, it’s a great feeling.”

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