Jacobs: A pair of ACC athletes who broke barriers, earned their wisdom

December 11, 2013 

Darryl Hill   Football Player    CLose Up

Breaks color lien Darryl Hill, 19, of Kenilworth, Md., is expected to become the University of Maryland?s first African American football player next fall. This photo was taken in 1961, when he starred on the Navy plebe team, scoring seven touchdowns. He resigned from the Navy Academy last spring and enrolled at Maryland.

AP

Darryl Hill and Jerry Fishman earned their expertise the hard way. Not by study, or by design. Not willingly, either. But once you’ve been the target of prejudice, or stood by a friend and seen abuse heaped upon him, the memories and sensitivities never go away.

Hill, a wide receiver from Washington, D.C., and Fishman, a linebacker from Connecticut, played together at the University of Maryland 50 seasons ago.

From the time each arrived at College Park, and as they subsequently traversed Virginia and the Carolinas, slurs and slights were a constant.

Maryland was the ACC’s northern outpost in those days, and led in integrating conference athletics. That transformation started with Hill. The first African-American athlete to play ACC football or basketball arrived as the civil rights movement blossomed.

The league got around to honoring Hill’s pioneering role in 2005; he tossed up the ceremonial coin at the start of the ACC’s inaugural football championship game.

Hill sat out the 1962 season as a transfer from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he had broken the color line. There he’d first met – and been leveled by – Fishman as the Maryland and Navy freshman teams squared off.

Soon after Hill got to Maryland a teammate wrote on a locker room blackboard that the training table would be serving “Gefilte fish and collard greens.”

The memory still amuses Hill more than a half-century later. “There was one guy on the team that was anti-Semitic and anti-black, and we suspected he wrote it,” he said. “Instead of being a slur, it turned out to be a big laugh.”

Other teammates immediately asked that their ethnic cuisines – British, Italian, German – be featured as well.

In fact, Hill is thinking of using that menu as the title of a prospective book and TV movie about his put-upon partnership with Fishman.

Avid anti-racist

The pair, who called themselves “the Onlys”, still speak on the phone at least twice annually on the occasion of their respective birthdays.

“He was avidly anti-racist,” Hill recalled of his road roommate. “It was a bit of a role reversal, being that he was the Jewish guy, more the big, brutish guy, and the black guy was the little nerdy kind of intellectual.”

Fishman was not one to hold back. When a teammate mocked him for being Jewish his first week at Maryland, Fishman pummeled his tormentor, knocking out teeth.

Fishman was All-ACC in 1964, his senior year. Hill appeared in every game as a junior in 1963, finished third in the ACC with 43 receptions at wide receiver, and tied what was then a conference record by catching seven touchdown passes.

Each played on both sides of the ball in that one-platoon era. Life on the road was challenging. Vocal fans periodically directed anti-Semitic remarks at Fishman, who fueled the fire with provocative gestures. “I recovered a fumble and taunted the crowd by punting the ball into the stands,” he recalled of a 1964 game at Virginia. “I received a delay of game penalty and a few charming comments about my heritage.”

Racism was more encompassing. On the field, Fishman recalled, “As we were in the South, it was like every down was: ‘Let’s get the ‘N’. Don’t let the ‘N’ get by you this time.’”

Fishman found conditions equally oppressive off the field, where opportunity, amenities and simple respect were generally ruled by racial considerations. “The thing most people don’t understand today is that these people didn’t realize this was wrong,” he said of white Southerners. “No one called them on it.”

A bit of a scene

When Maryland players sat to eat at a drugstore lunch counter in Winston-Salem, they were ignored because Hill was with them. The Terrapins contingent finally got up and left, but not before Fishman characteristically “caused a little bit of a scene,” he said.

The dirty dishes from previous diners that cluttered the counter went crashing to the floor.

National Guardsmen were on hand to keep order when Maryland played at the University of South Carolina shortly after the school was integrated. The Columbia campus had long been unwelcome territory for African-Americans, some of whom turned out specifically to root for visiting football teams that included black players.

When a white fan poured a drink on Hill as the Terps walked to the locker room at halftime, Fishman hit the offender with his helmet.

Two months later at Clemson, Hill’s mother, ticket in hand, was refused entry to Memorial Stadium. University president Robert C. Edwards came to Palestine Hill’s rescue, inviting her to sit in his personal box and to spend the night at his home.

At a forgotten Big Four school Hill “had his bell rung” and was rebuffed when in need of oxygen, according to Fishman. “It was, ‘I’m not putting this mask on any N’s face.’ So I grabbed it and put it on him. I got in a little scuffle over that.”

Painfully earned expertise

A more positive experience came prior to a game at Wake Forest. Brian Piccolo, the Deacons’ All-ACC running back, made a point of standing beside Hill in the face of abusive fans. That quieted the crowd.

These days Fishman is a retired attorney living in Florida, Hill the director of a non-profit in Maryland. Far apart in miles, their painfully earned expertise keeps them close in outlook.

Take Hill’s disapproval of retaining the nickname “Redskins” for his hometown’s NFL team. The former entrepreneur concedes there’s great expense in changing a franchise name and logo. But he said a response to American Indians’ concerns is more than a matter of cost, convenience, or popularity.

“You can’t decide in terms of what (the team regards as) an insult, it’s all in the person who’s receiving it,” Hill said. He reeled off an extensive list of derogatory names for various ethnic and religious groups to illustrate that none would be acceptable for an NFL club. “I wouldn’t want my racial heritage attached to a nickname. Some people may not mind that so much, but the term ‘Redskins’ is a slur, it’s a derogatory slur.”

Fishman hadn’t given much thought to the Redskins controversy. He was clear, however, on the basic principle involved. “If it offends a Native American, heck, get rid of it,” he said, echoing Hill. “It’s their decision whether it’s offensive, not the user of the word.”

That’s straight from the experts.

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