While it is not uncommon for athletes from historically black colleges (HBCUs) to succeed at a professional level, they rarely go on to have Hall of Fame careers as professionals. However, some of the most accomplished athletes in professional sports actually got their starts at HBCUs. In the NFL, 33 former players attended HBCUs that became Hall of Famers, while the NBA has five in comparison. Here we will highlight just a few professional athletes that went on to have Hall of Fame careers by way of HBCUs.
NFL: Mel Blount, Southern A&M University
In his time with the Southern Jaguars, Mel Blount was named to the All-SWAC team twice and won the SWAC MVP award in his junior year in 1974. Blount went on to play 14 seasons in the NFL, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowls, making five Pro Bowl appearances and six All-Pro teams. He also won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award in 1975, a season that he also led the league in interceptions. He is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ all-time leader in career interceptions. Blount was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Track & Field: Ralph Boston, Tennessee State University
While at Tennessee State University, Ralph Boston won the NCAA championship in the long jump in 1960, going on to set the world record in the same event in August of the same year at the Mt. SAC Relays. Boston set the Olympic record in the long jump in the 1960 Summer Olympics on his way to taking home the gold medal followed by a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics and a bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics. Ralph Boston was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985.
NFL: Willie Brown, Grambling State University
Willie Brown was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2012 for his time spent with the Grambling State Tigers. Brown entered the AFL as an undrafted free agent joining the Denver Broncos in 1963, going on to be selected an AFL All-Star five times and was named to six All-AFL teams. Once the AFL and NFL merged, Brown won three Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders, appearing in four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. He is the Oakland Raiders’ all-time leader for career interceptions. Willie Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.
MLB: Lou Brock, Southern A&M University
Lou Brock helped the Southern Jaguars win the 1959 NAIA World Series Champions, making them the only HBCU to win the NAIA World Series. As a result, he was named to the NAIA all-tournament team in addition to being selected for the following year’s tournament as well. Brock then went on to play 19 MLB seasons, winning two World Series titles and he made six All-Star appearances. He led the league in stolen bases eight times, led in runs twice and led in second and third base hits in 1969. Lou Brock was inducted into the MLB Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
Track & Field: Jearl Miles Clark, Alabama A&M University
While at Alabama A&M, Jearl Miles Clark began competing in the high jump before discovering her running ability and joining the 4×400 relay team when one of the members suffered an injury. Clark first won her first medal in the Summer Olympics in 1992, winning the silver medal in the 4×400 meter relay, then went on to win the gold in the same event in the next two Summer Olympics. In her World Championships career, Clark has won four gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals. Jearl Miles Clark was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2010.
Track & Field: Alice Coachman, Tuskegee University
Before enrolling into the Tuskegee Institute, Alice Coachman made a name for herself in the Amateur Athletic Union’s Women’s National Championships, breaking the national record in the high jump barefoot. Once with the Tuskegee track team, Coachman went on to win national championships in the 50-meter dash, the 100-meter dash and 4×400-meter relay. Due to World War II, Coachman missed out on the opportunity to compete in the 1940 and 1944 Summer Olympics. She competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics winning the gold in the high jump, setting a then Olympic record. Alice Coachman was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.
MLB: Andre Dawson, Florida A&M University
In his time with the Florida A&M Rattlers, Andre Dawson was named to the All-SIAC Second team in his junior year and the All-SIAC First team in his senior year. He led his team in runs scored in his sophomore year and junior year, stolen bases in his junior year, and hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs in his junior and senior years. At the conclusion of his college career, Andre Dawson then went on to play 21 seasons in the MLB with the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins. He won the NL MVP award in 1987 while also making eight All-Star selections, eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. Andre Dawson was inducted into the MLB Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
MLB: Monte Irvin, Lincoln University (PA)
While in college at Lincoln University, Monte Irvin played football but ended his college football career due to being unable to play and study in pre-dentistry. He went on to play nine seasons in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles before the transition to the majors signing with the New York Giants two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color in the MLB. In his eight seasons in the majors, Irvin led the league in RBIs in 1951, was named an All-Star in 1952 and won the World Series with the Giants in 1954. Monte Irvin was inducted into the MLB Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.
NBA: Sam Jones, North Carolina Central University
Sam Jones was selected All-CIAA three times with North Carolina Central and is their scored the second leading scorer in school history. Sam Jones was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame in 1981 and the inaugural College Basketball Hall of Fame class in 2006. In his 12 NBA seasons, Jones won 10 NBA champions in addition to being selected to five All-Star teams and three All-Pro teams. Sam Jones was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
NBA: Earl Monroe, Winston-Salem State University
Earl Monroe is the all-time leading scorer in CIAA conference history with a career scoring average of 26.7 points per game. He helped lead the Rams to a CIAA championship in his junior year and the NCAA Division II championship in his senior year. Monroe became the highest-drafted HBCU alum in NBA history when he was selected second overall in the 1967 NBA Draft. He went on to win an NBA championship in 1973 in addition to being selected to four All-Star teams. Monroe was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990.
NFL: Walter Payton, Jackson State University
Regarded by many as the greatest running back in football history, Walter Payton led the Jackson State Tigers to two SWAC championships. He won two Black College Player of the Year awards and was named an All-American in his senior season. Payton played 13 NFL seasons, winning a Super Bowl in 1985, was named AP MVP in 1977, was selected to nine Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. Walter Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
NBA: Willis Reed, Grambling State University
Willis Reed is the only athlete to play his college basketball in the SWAC to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. While at Grambling State, he helped lead the Tigers to two SWAC championships on his way to being inducted into the inaugural College Basketball Hall of Fame class. Reed spent 10 seasons in the NBA, winning two NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, a league MVP and seven All-Star appearances. Reed was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.
NFL: Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State University
In his collegiate career, Jerry Rice set NCAA records for most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in a single-season, eventually being inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame. In the NFL, he became widely regarded as the greatest receiver in NFL history, leading the league in career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns while also winning three Super Bowls, making 13 Pro Bowls and 10 All-Pro teams. Jerry Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Track & Field: Wilma Rudolph, Tennessee State University
Wilma Rudolph began running for the Tennessee State women’s track team two years before enrolling as a student, winning multiple Amateur Athletic Union championships. She won a bronze medal in the 1956 Summer Olympics in the 4×100 meter relay at just 16-years-old. In the 1960 Summer Olympics, Wilma Rudolph became the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Summer Olympics, winning the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4×100 meter relay. Rudolph was inducted into the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the U.S Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.
NFL: Michael Strahan, Texas Southern University
While at Texas Southern University, Michael Strahan was named SWAC Player of the Year twice, Black College Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-SWAC and AP First Team All-American. Strahan went on to the NFL, playing 15 seasons with the New York Giants setting the NFL’s single-season sack record in 2001. Strahan was selected to seven Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and won a Super Bowl in his final season in the NFL. Michael Strahan was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.