I love the dimensions of the Social Studies that he has added to my understanding of curriculum and classroom activities. I hope I have helped him see how Young Adult Literature can be a cross-curricular tool in both subject areas. Indeed, our joint publications have always tried to focus on that concept. I love how this blog references sports, film, and autobiography as a way to introduce students to reading. Thanks Paul.
Paul also hosts an educational blog, Ring of Truth that focuses on the Social Studies. You should check it out. He also has links to his previous posts on this website on his website as well.
I Am Third: Postscript by Paul E. Binford
This past September I was jarred by the passing of Gale Eugene Sayers, an NFL football player, who played for the Chicago Bears during my youth. His sparkling, but brief 68-game professional career culminated in his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame—at age 34 the youngest man to be so honored. In college, he was known as the Kansas Comet and his career highlights illustrate the accuracy of that nickname. His combination of speed, quickness, and elusiveness as a running back and kick returner remain unmatched.
I was not a Gale Sayers’ fan then for a simple reason—he played for the archrival of my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers. Nevertheless, after watching a film about Sayers in my junior high school social studies class, I was inspired to read his autobiography, I Am Third.
The book title was based on Gale Sayers’ personal credo:
Sayers first encountered these words as a college student. It appealed to him because he recognized his often egocentric behavior. His unwavering drive to be the best, to win every competition, and defeat every opponent often contributed to his own social isolation.
Later that same Sunday, Dr. Fox operated on Sayer’s knee for three hours. For the next six weeks, he wore a fifteen pound cast from toe to hip. The remaining pages of part one provide an account of Sayer’s daunting but determined effort to strengthen his knee, so that he would be fully healthy by the start of the next season. The running back soon came to loathe questions about his injury. His single-mindedness rehabilitation stressed his marriage and his friendships.
Chapter six entitled, “Pick,” is dedicated to one of his closest friends. In 1968, they were roommates at the Bear’s training camp and on away games. They were opposites in many respects. Sayers grew up in subsidized housing in North Omaha, Nebraska and attended a public high school. Pick attended a Catholic school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Sayers was quiet and reserved while Pick was gregarious with an endearing sense of humor. Sayers was a first team all-American his senior year in college; he was a first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1965. That same year Pick was an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) player of the year, but he went undrafted. In his first professional season, Sayers was the NFL Rookie of the Year; Pick spent that same season on the Bear’s practice squad never playing a single down.
Unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, the 1969 season was memorable for its futility and tragedy. Sayers did play a full season, but he was not as explosive or as elusive. When another player was injured that season, Brian Piccolo (or Pick) played alongside Sayers as the starting fullback. However, the Bears struggled mightily with a league worst record of 1-13. More poignantly, Pick, who suffered most of the season with a chronic cough, was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma. A week later a grapefruit size malignant tumor was removed from his chest. Following his surgery, Piccolo reflected, “At one time, football was the most important thing. But when you're lying on your back and you wonder whether you're going to live or die and you're thinking about your three little girls, you come to discover there are more important things than football.”
You flatter me by giving me this award but I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the … award. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow … I love Brian Piccolo and I’d like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.
Brian Piccolo died on June 16, 1970 at the age of 26 leaving behind a wife and three children. Following his death, the ACC presents a courage award in his honor. A cancer research fund was founded in Piccolo’s name and has raised over $10 million. In Brian’s day, a embryonal cell carcinoma diagnosis was a virtual death sentence, but now it has a 95% cure rate. Gale Sayers never fully recovered from that devastating knee injury. Other nagging injuries limited his effectiveness during his final two seasons in the NFL leading to his retirement at the age of 29. Sayers returned to Kansas to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He became the athletic director of Southern Illinois University, the first African American to serve in that role at a major university. Then, he founded a highly successful technology consulting firm. For most of his adult life, Sayers supported the Cradle, a Chicago-area adoption agency. In 1999, that agency launched the Ardythe and Gale Sayers Center for African American Adoption.
Dr. Paul E. Binford is an associate professor of secondary social studies teacher education at Mississippi State University. He is also the co-director of Teaching with Primary Sources: Mississippi. His scholarly work on the history of the social studies and cross-curricular connections has appeared in journals, such as Theory and Research in Social Education, Curriculum History, and the ALAN Review. He is currently working on a book project about the Pacific Mission and the Rescue Reunion.