Jr. John Mitchell Jr. John Mitchell Mitchell was the first African-American to play football for the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide. He began playing for the team in 1892 and ended his career with three years of eligibility remaining. In an era when most colleges did not have open enrollment, Mitchell had been allowed to stay at Alabama despite not being a student because he was paid $5 per game by the school.
He died in a car accident in 1900 at the age of 26.
According to the University of Alabama's website, there are now four known African-Americans who have played for the Crimson Tide: DeMeco Ryans, Marquis Johnson, Raheem Morris and Landon Collins.
Mitchell is still considered the only black player in Alabama history.
Anthony Wright became the first black player admitted into the Alabama Athletic Association in 1894. However, he was expelled after only one season for "unmanly conduct." The university president at the time, Thomas W. Alexander, wrote in a letter to the athletic director that Wright was "not fitted for the profession of athletics" due to "his lack of refinement and cultivation". Wright then went on to play for Vanderbilt.
Mitchell was the first African-American to be chosen a co-captain at Alabama in 1972. The American Football Coaches Association named him an All-American the same year. In each of his two seasons at Alabama, he was named to the All-SEC team. After graduating from Alabama with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1975, Mitchell went on to play eight more seasons in the NFL as a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants.
He died in 2013 at the age of 62.
Mitchell was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round (36th overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft. He played nine seasons in the NFL for the Falcons and the New York Giants, earning All-NFL honors in 1979. During his career, he appeared in 152 games and recorded 229 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and 1 fumble recovery.
After retiring from football, he became a security guard at Georgia State University where he worked for 17 years.
Mitchell played high school football in Montgomery, Alabama before moving on to play college football at Alabama. His selection by the Falcons in the 1975 NFL Draft made him the first black player picked in the draft.
Alabama had two black players the next season, junior college transfer John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson, who advanced from Alabama's freshman squad in 1970 to varsity the following season. According to Mike Puma's biography of Bryant on ESPN.com, by 1973, one-third of Alabama's starters were black. The number of blacks on the team increased after that, with many black players coming off the bench to provide a spark during games.
Mitchell and Jackson were the first black players to start at the same time on the same Alabama team. They started at left guard and right tackle, respectively, in the 1973 Sugar Bowl against Penn State. The game was tied at 10 early in the fourth quarter when Alabama took over at its 25. Mitchell gave way to an all-white line up for the final drive but still played a role in helping the Crimson Tide score a touchdown on their first possession of overtime. After losing the toss, Alabama drove 66 yards in eight plays before Jackson scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with less than two minutes remaining in the third overtime period.
Both men went on to play professional football. Mitchell played nine seasons in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets and Jackson spent seven seasons in the AFL and World Football League before moving on to work in real estate and as a security guard.
They are among more than 70 players who have had their numbers retired by the university.