First sports talk interview: 10:40 a.m., Sunday, on 93.7 The Fan.
My friend Joe Starkey, radio host on 93.7 The Fan and sports columnist (still), received one of the first advance copies of The Color of Sundays. It’s always difficult sending out the book to people I respect. Starkey would be at the top of the list. I mean he still writes because he *wants* to keep writing!
Here’s what Joe had to say…
The great 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers had an edge, and his name was Bill Nunn Jr., who could find football players where others would not look. “The Color of Sundays” tells that remarkable story but also takes us deep into the fascinating, groundbreaking adventures of one of Pittsburgh’s treasured sports figures, from Nunn’s ride to the airport with Roberto Clemente after Game 7 of 1960 World Series to his journeys into the Deep South to find little-known athletes destined to become stars.
Bill Nunn Jr. with four of the six Lombardi trophies he helped the Steelers win.
Few sports figures were closer to the center of the sweeping Civil Rights changes of the 20th Century than Nunn, an iconic Steelers scout who doubled as a do-it-all sportswriter for the groundbreaking Pittsburgh Courier. “The Color of Sundays” masterfully weaves Nunn’s personal story — eschewing a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters to work in newspapers at the start of his career — with the social changes of the times.
What was Roberto Clemente feeling in the moments after the 1960 World Series? How did John Stallworth feel after a failed tryout in front of NFL scouts? And what of Jackie Robinson after an uncharacteristic tirade at Forbes Field? The answers might surprise you. Many things from the life of the great Bill Nunn Jr., a key figure in the rise of a 1970s football dynasty, might surprise you.
I’m grateful Joe took the time to read the book — and that he liked it. Tune in Sunday morning to hear us talk about the Steelers, Nunn and his living legacy.
John Clayton, ESPN senior NFL writer and comentator
Whenever I was interviewing Bill Nunn Jr., he often talked about that “former Pittsburgh Press reporter with the glasses who works for ESPN.” It didn’t take me long to figure out he meant John Clayton, the network’s senior NFL writer and commentator, known as “The Professor” for his brainy takes on the game. (Check out this ESPN commercial for the “real” Clayton.)
While he was still a student at Churchill Area High School, Clayton started covering sports. And he was covering Steelers training camp as early as 1972 for the St. Mary’s Pennsylvania Daily Press. He joined ESPN in 1995 and has been inducted into the writers’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Few people in the industry work harder.
As a former newsman and football legend, Nunn had a deep appreciation for Clayton. So when I finished the book, it was important for me to get Clayton’s take on The Color of Sundays. After reading the book on a short turn-around (during the start of NFL training camps), Clayton offered up these thoughts…
“As a young reporter, I learned a lot of football from Bill Nunn Jr. His story, The Color of Sundays, is a must-read history lesson on how sports can overcome racism. Bill was ahead of his time in getting great players of color into the NFL.”
It means a lot to me that the people who knew Nunn professionally appreciated the way I told his story. When I saw this quote, I knew I had hit the mark.
ESPN captures another side of John Clayton in this tongue-in-cheek commercial about “The Professor.”
It’s time to exorcise some demons with the launch of my new book, The Color of Sundays, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct 6. We’re taking it to the Clark Bar & Grill.
Not just because they once let my friends dance on the bar top. Or because they make a go-to turkey club sandwich. But because the Clark Bar is part of our DNA as Pittsburghers.
Don’t believe me? Sure there was always the Clark candy bar and the iconic neon sign on top of the factory. I have spent a good chunk of my life toiling away in that building, where the Tribune-Review makes its home.
But for a greater reason than any of that, it was at the Clark Bar where we truly agonized as Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Before the agony, fans piled into the bar on October 14, 1992, and celebrated as the Pirates took a 2-0 lead in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. CBS television panned across the jubilant crowd…
And then, as Doug Drabek handed the ball over to Stan Belinda, and as Sid Bream stretched out his bum knee at first base, the Clark Bar became a spiritual place. I was not there that night but looking at these images I feel like we all were there that night.
So when we gather on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, it will be the eve of the National League playoffs. We will celebrate the launch of my book. And we will cast out the demons of so many years ago!
Hope to see you there. The event is free and open to the public. I will be selling and signing books at a discounted price.
Presales of The Color of Sundays have started, in advance of the Oct. 1 publication date. We are working to set up several signings and lecture events around Western Pennsylvania. Details to come. Soon, I think.
This is one of my favorite photos from researching the book. It’s a rare shot from The Pittsburgh Steelers archives. From the draft room at Three Rivers Stadium. Bill Nunn Jr, on the left. Dick Haley, director of player personnel (and father of Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley). V. Tim Rooney, a nephew of the chief, standing. And Art Rooney Jr., team vice president.
Here’s another shot. The original wooden draft tables are still in use at Steelers headquarters on the South Side. And, yes, they are pockmarked with burns from cigarettes and cigars. Where could that have come from?
I’m pleased to announce that my latest book, The Color of Sundays, will be coming out October 1. Pre-sales have started, and we are working to set up several signings and lecture events around Western Pennsylvania. Details to come.
Bill Nunn Jr. never wanted me to write this book. But he ultimately gave me his blessing and for that I am grateful. Bill was first a pioneering African-American athlete. Then he ranked among the nation’s best-known black sports writers — and became the first to sit in the press box at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field baseball stadium. Ultimately, he turned into the secret weapon that brought the Pittsburgh Steelers from decades of failure to unmatched championship success.
Bill Nunn Jr. Journalist and Steelers scout
The Color of Sundays tells this story against the backdrop of American football, the nation’s struggles over Civil Rights and the Steelers’ emergence as a premier franchise. Along the way, the book uncovers details that have been lost to history: Branch Rickey, the Dodger’s general manager who integrated Major League Baseball, played football in 1904 with the first black professional football player. And Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player Rickey signed, played football at UCLA with the two men who reintegrated the National Football League after World War II.
When Nunn said he didn’t want this book, he meant that it shouldn’t just be about him. He challenged me to learn about the other men who had come before him and who stood beside him. He meant that I should seek the larger story. And in the process, I uncovered a rich American tale about men who struggled to rise above — and who exceeded beyond their dreams.
We really need to rally around Essential Pittsburgh, the daily talk show on WESA 90.5 FM, the local NPR affiliate. The show serves a critical and unique role by giving airtime to important issues for local residents.
The station was gracious (daring?) enough to let me guest host again today. We had three terrific segments looking at…
— Independent book stores fighting back. I talk with my new friend Susan Hans O’Connor, who has taken over the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley. Susan has a rich history in the book industry and she’s doing a terrific job of making a strong case for the relevancy of small, independent booksellers.
— The Braddock High School football team of the 1950s. Spoiler alert: The team goes five years without a loss. It’s a pretty incredible story. And author Greg Nichols sets the team’s successes against the backdrop of what was then the largest strike in the steel industry’s history. The book is a fun read. And I got Greg to talk a little about how he recreates scenes that took place a half-century ago.