Vahe Gregorian: Gale's Song: Sayers' legacy in race relationships still resonates today

By Vahe Gregorian, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Football

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - If you're of a certain age and time, one sports movie still stands out above all others. "Brian's Song" made its debut on ABC on Nov. 30, 1971, when I was an impressionable fifth grader and among the millions weeping - even as it also offered a profound social statement for its time in the most-watched made-for-TV movie ever made.

On the occasion of Gale Sayers' death on Wednesday at age 77, that's as much or more of his legacy than being the Kansas Comet.

Or the human highlight reel that he became with the Chicago Bears (eluding the Chiefs for the NFL team after they made him the fifth overall pick in the 1965 AFL draft).

And becoming at age 34 after an injury-sabotaged career the youngest man ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When I hear Sayers' name, I think first of "Brian's Song" and his relationship with Brian Piccolo. Put aside some fictionalized aspects, and the appalling use of the N-word.

The essence of it was pure and groundbreaking.


Because it gave us all a chance to consider how much more it unites us than divides us and served as a powerful testimonial to how sports can bridge the divide in race relationships.

As we are again, or still, embroiled in matters of racial injustice in this country, that relationship speaks anew to an ideal we've yet to realize but serves again now as a reminder of what could and should be in a common cause.

"It's still one of the movies, you watch it today, you cry," Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said Wednesday.

He later added, "At a time when that really wasn't kosher, those two bonded at a level that speaks purely of humanity and nothing else.


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