Football icon Vincent Lombardi championed racial integration in the NFL, viewing his players as “Packer green”, rather than black or white. But Lombardi’s holographic pre-game speech at Super Bowl 55 had fans confused, with some thinking he looked black. Was Vince Lombardi black?

Was Vince Lombardi black?

Vince Lombardi was not black. Born to Enrico “Harry” Lombardi and Matilda “Mattie” Izzo in Brooklyn, Lombardi was the son of two Italians.

According to biographies by David Maraniss and Michael O’Brien, Lombardi’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Salerno, Italy. Similarly, his material grandparents emigrated from Vietri di Potenza, Basilicata, in southern Italy.

Lombardi grew up in an ethnically diverse, middle-class neighbourhood. During the Great Depression following the stock market crash of 1929, his father’s Manhattan butcher shop did well, and so the family prospered.

Lombardi was a champion of racial integration in the NFL

Lombardi was a champion of integration in the NFL. 

Maraniss writes that he was determined “to ignore the prejudices then prevalent in most NFL front offices in search for the most talented players.”

was vince lombardi black
Green Bay Packer defensive back Em Tunnell shakes hands with his coach, Vince Lombardi, on the practice field. Green Bay, Wisconsin, October 27, 1961.

Rather than view his players through a racial lens, i.e. as black or white players, Lombardi viewed them as “Packer green”. At the time, in the 1960s, he coached the Green Bay Packers, based in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

During Lombardi’s time as head coach for the Packers, the team went from having one black player to having thirteen.

The team proceeded to enjoy its so-called “Golden Age”, during which it won five NFL championships.

 

‘No gay dogs or straight dogs’

Lombardi insisted on unconditional respect for everyone in his team and wider organisation.

He was intolerant of homophobia, and would allegedly fire any coach discriminating against a player on the basis of sexuality.

Jim Buzinski of Outsports quotes a player as saying that Lombardi “treats us all the same – like dogs”.

“To the coach, there were no gay dogs or straight dogs; there were just Packers who had one goal: to play their best and win.”

Why are people asking if Vince Lombardi was black?

Following yesterday’s Super Bowl coverage, some fans have claimed that Vince Lombardi’s hologram appeared to be black.

The actor portraying Vince Lombardi in the Super Bowl speech is Russ Hutchison, of Topeka, Kansas.

Hutchison is a white actor of European descent, who applied for the role because of the gap in his teeth.

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