How the story of Arkansas’ first black football player inspired Nolan Richardson’s biography

Part of Darrell Brown’s Legacy

The feel-good story of October’s second weekend of college football belonged to Darrell Brown, the first black football player at the University of Arkansas. Forty-five years after he left the program under depressing conditions – bruised, battered, injured and ignored – Brown was celebrated at a  halftime ceremony of the Auburn-Arkansas game. In front of 70,000 cheering people, he accepted the authentic varsity jersey he’d always craved and an honorary plaque. After such a ceremony, and an attendant Yahoo Sports article, Brown’s story of pain, suffering, bitterness and, ultimately, reconciliation (his three children attended UA) is known to the world.

Throughout it all, a range of emotions swept through Brown.

On Sunday, I spoke to Brown about his reaction to the ceremony. He added that the UA press is talking to him about writing his biography. If it goes through, it appears he’ll co-author the book with athlete-turned-writer Celia Anderson, who led Little Rock Hall High School to a basketball state championship in 1997 before signing with the Lady Razorbacks. In college, she played on a Final Four team and a WNIT championship team. Later, she played pro ball in Greece before embarking on a career geared toward literacy advocacy. Anderson currently teaches at NorthWest Arkansas Community College while pursuing a PhD in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University.

I was originally introduced to Darrell Brown in 2010 at Arkansas’ Multi-Ethnic Hall of Fame induction in Little Rock by Rus Bradburd.

Bradburd attended that ceremony primarily to speak about his experiences with Nolan Richardson, the subject of his recently published biography. Over the course of interviewing Richardson for that book, however, Bradburd was told about Brown’s extraordinary perseverance.

The story roused Bradburd from one of his worst episodes of writer’s block.

“I was sitting there working on that Nolan Richardson book for about a year,” with about a year and a half until deadline, Bradburd said. “I was surrounded by this big pile of stuff -notes, research, recordings, newspaper articles and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ It just seemed too hard … So I was overwhelmed by the research and then [former Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge] Wendell Griffin said ‘You need to learn what happened to Darrell Brown. Here’s his phone number. Call Darrell Brown and call Davis Hargis, his teammate.'”

“When I heard Darrell Brown’s story, I thought ‘I can do this. If Darrell Brown went through what he did for a year and half, then surely I can write a book for a year and a half.’ It was really the inspiration for finishing this book. I thought there’s no way I can give up now.”

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