Tunney Side of Sports, “Handling Prejudice with Dignity” – #243, August 31, 2009

After Further Review … Burl Toler Sr. was a National Football League game official for 25 years.  He carried #37 on the back of his NFL officiating jersey.  More than that, he carried himself, both on and off the field, with grace and dignity.  Burl died on August 16, 2009, and I not only lost a fellow official, but a good friend.
 
    Burl worked as a Head Linesman in a crew where I was privileged to serve as his Crew Chief in the on-field position as referee.  We worked in the same crew for 11 consecutive seasons.  When two officials are together EVERY Saturday and Sunday for 11 seasons, you become family.  Burl and I were just that.
 
    It may be difficult for some to imagine what it is like to be a black man (you may prefer African-American) putting on an NFL official’s uniform that no other of his race had done.  Burl was the first black NFL official when he joined our ranks in 1965.  There were black players and assistant coaches, but only a few.  There were some racial animosities between players in the early 1960’s; and maybe some “concern” whether a black man could officiate an NFL game.
 
    That was never an issue with Burl Toler.  He had earned the right to wear those stripes.  Burl was an outstanding linebacker at the University of San Francisco, playing on a USF T.E.A.M. that sent 11 players to the NFL, including Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair and Ollie Mattson.  Mattson and Toler were the only 2 black players on that undefeated 1951 Don’s team (9-0) with the team being invited to two Bowl games.  They – the Don’s – turned down those invitations because “blacks weren’t allowed to go with the team.”
 
    Turning down those Bowl invitations was a touching moment for Toler and Mattson, and, I believe, developed a personal strength for Burl as he pursued a career in officiating.  Burl was a teacher at Ben Franklin Junior High School and eventually became its principal.  Franklin Junior High became Ben Franklin Middle School, and then became BURL A. TOLER Middle School.  To receive the recognition of having a school named in your honor has to be the epitome of the grace, dignity and service of the man.
 
    In the 25 years Burl served as an on-field official, including Super Bowl XIV where he was – again – the first black official to work a Super Bowl – his presence dignified the position. 
 
    Will you handle unkind remarks with a “Toler-kind” of attitude?
 
(Note: watch for my new site: “Tunney Side of Sports”)
 
For more information about Jim Tunney, please visit his website:
www.JimTunney.com, or if you would like to respond to this message, please send your email to Jim@JimTunney.com


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