Mack Brown’s commitment to HBCU football is a family thing.
When Brown met his wife Sally on a blind date back in 1992, he found a young woman who knew next to nothing about the game he was coaching at UNC. But the former Sally Jesse knew something about a problem he was having with his team. She was a successful developer in Chapel Hill and a philanthropist who sat on the first board of the Sonja Haynes Black Cultural Center that had just opened on campus.
The center was hailed by most students and alumni who thought minorities needed their own place to socialize in a safe and welcoming environment. However, UNC Trustee John Pope disagreed, saying “it seems to me that if (Black students) are interested in a Black cultural center, maybe those students should attend a Black university.”
However, Black student activists on campus wanted to use the new center in their protests that included higher wages for UNC housekeepers and asked Black members of the football team not to participate in the upcoming home game.
What Sally Brown told her future husband in that first meeting remains confidential. But suffice to say it helped him understand the conflict of loyalty that some of his players were experiencing between the protests and the teammates they did not want to let down by sitting out of the game.
They all played, and their group and individual meetings before and after that game helped Brown and his coaching staff better identify with the plight of the Black athlete and Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
It led Brown to become one of the great recruiters in college football at UNC and eventually at Texas, where he turned into a champion of all of his players for both their accomplishments and social issues.
In his first season at Austin, five years after he married Sally, Brown revitalized the career of running back Ricky Williams, who went on to win the 1998 Heisman trophy with the Longhorns.
In his more than 40 years of coaching, Brown has continued to both embrace and understand the challenges college athletes have. And he and Sally have always been there for their players off the field as well as on.
Brown put Florida A&M on the schedule for the opening game this season and has added NC Central in 2024. He is keenly aware of the disadvantages facing most HBCU programs and wants to help them with TV exposure and the guaranteed money that visiting Kenan Stadium can provide .
“We’re excited about Florida A&M at home and celebrating HBCUs,” Brown said. “We’ll be honoring their band and honoring our Black fraternities and sororities and it will be a highlight game on the ACC Network.”
Featured image via Associated Press/Gerry Broome
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