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The Color Of Sundays

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Cardinal Publishers Group

Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter and author Andrew Conte laces together a history of racism in sports and the creation of the 1970s Steelers dynasty with his latest book, The Color of Sundays.

The book tells the story of Pittsburgh Courier sports writer turned Steelers scout Bill Nunn Jr., who by 1970, was the first African American promoted to a front office position with the Pittsburgh Steelers as Assistant Director of Player Personnel. 

Though at first reluctant to have a book published about his life and work, Conte says Nunn warmed up to the idea when they agreed to make the story not just about one man and the Steelers, but rather as a story about black athletes finally getting recognized by the National Football League.

“There was a lot of work that went into getting to the point where we are today where there’s equality in sports, and where players are judged on their ability and their value, rather than how they look,” Conte reflected.

During the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Courier was a national publication, providing what many say was a voice to African Americans across the U.S.  In the book, Nunn describes his encounters with racism in the media first hand when he became a sportswriter for the Courier. With a strictly enforced all-white press box, Nunn was forced to purchase tickets to attend events that he was covering and sit in the bleachers, away from the rest of the media.

While managing editor of the Courier, Nunn’s father came up with the idea of creating a Black College All-American List.  Nunn began traveling around the country to find the best African American football players for his list, which was published at the end of each season.  For these young players, being featured on Nunn’s list was often the highlight of their career, Conte explains.

“If you couldn’t dream of playing in the NFL, the most you could hope for was that Bill Nunn and the Courier would show up at your small black college, you’d have an outstanding game, you’d leave some lasting impact, and Bill would maybe perhaps add you to his list at the end of the season.” 

Following the release of his list, Nunn would host a banquet for all of the players at the Hilton in Pittsburgh, sponsored by the Rooney family.  After recognizing the enormous talent of the young men, Conte says the Rooneys decided to hire Nunn as a part-time scout.

“They came to a realization that if they could start to access this pool of talent that nobody else was looking at, that would give them a great advantage.”

While scouting for the Steelers, Nunn was able to find Steelers legends such as John Stallworth, L.C. Greenwood and Mel Blount.  Conte credits Nunn greatly in contributing to the Steelers’ six SuperBowl championships, especially the first four.

Though Nunn passed away in 2014, his legacy continues to thrive throughout the Steelers organization.

“He’s had a major lasting impact, and it is one that I think will continue to grow.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.