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NCAA honors McDaniels with Silver Anniversary Award

Some 25 years after his college football career, Pellom McDaniels (right) received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award for his achievements in the NFL, community service and work as a professor and curator at Emory. The award was presented Jan. 16 during the NCAA’s national conference in Washington. Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA.

Twenty-five years ago, Pellom McDaniels was a football player and speech communication major at Oregon State University. After playing in the NFL, launching two charities, and earning a doctorate, he is now curator for African American Collections for Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) and an assistant professor of African American studies.

On Jan. 16, McDaniels received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, presented to former student-athletes 25 years after the end of their college athletic careers. The award, given to McDaniels and five other recipients at the NCAA’s national convention in Washington, celebrates achievements since graduation.

It’s "hard to say" what the honor means to him, McDaniels tells Emory Report.

"On the one hand, I never expect to receive awards for the work I do in the community. I feel that being of service is part of being a citizen and a community member. At the same time, it’s nice to have people acknowledge your contributions," he says. "I never expected the kind of recognition that the Silver Anniversary Awards represents. It was a very pleasant surprise that is greatly appreciated."

McDaniels was nominated for the NCAA honor by Steve Fenk, Oregon State’s associate athletic director for communications. In a recent interview for the Oregon Stater, the university’s alumni magazine, Fenk called the Silver Anniversary Award "about the biggest honor you can get from the NCAA," and said McDaniels was so accomplished that it was difficult to decide which achievements to include in the nomination.

"It was amazing," Fenk said. "I was thinking, ‘What do I put in?’ You’re limited to so many pages you can include. He had honors from the NFL, for his community work, his academic work. I was thinking, ‘Where do I start, and where do I end?’ It was that hard. I had about a dozen pages of information."

At Oregon State, McDaniels faced life at a school where most students were white, but most student-athletes were black. He earned accolades as a defensive lineman for the OSU Beavers, served as president of his fraternity, helped organize the school’s first vigil honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and graduated in just three years.

McDaniels says he enjoyed his years at Oregon State and balancing his time between athletics and academics. "Most student-athletes learn early on how to balance their commitments to their academics and to their sport. The major difference was in the intensity of the pursuit of success," he says. "To succeed both academically and athletically, I had to develop and maintain a routine that allowed me to maximize my time."

After first playing for the Birmingham Fire in the World League of American Football, McDaniels moved to the NFL where he played for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons. While playing professional football, he also found time to start two nonprofit organizations: the Arts for Smarts Foundation and the Fish Out of Water Writing Club, both geared toward elementary and middle school students. Following his nine-year NFL career, he earned a PhD in American studies at Emory, then joined the faculty.

"Through my participation in sports as an athlete and my scholarly interest in the history of sports in the African American community, I recognized the significance sport has played throughout American history, especially for African Americans in pursuit of equal opportunities for social mobility, political power, and a economic stability," he says.

Inspired by his own experiences as an athlete and those he studied, McDaniels has focused his scholarly research on race and sports, as well as African Americans and World War I, 19th and 20th century ideas about black masculinity, the intersection of sports and civil rights, and the politics of representation in African American art. His book "The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy," debuted last year.

"In my work as a sports historian and curator of African American Collections in MARBL, I examine how African American men have attempted to prove their humanity, manhood and citizenship in an effort to claim all the rights and privileges available to those recognized as deserving of that status," he explains. "My work examines the lives of people like the jockey Isaac Murphy, the boxer Joe Louis, and the baseball player Jackie Robinson, and the impact each of them had on American society."

Other Silver Anniversary Award recipients include basketball player Jennifer Azzi from Stanford University; swimmer Brent Lang of the University of Michigan; basketball player Bernard Muir of Brown University; baseball player Mike Mussina of Stanford University; and basketball player Tamyra Rogers of the University of Oklahoma.

Visit the NCAA website to learn more about their post-collegiate careers.

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