as Hall of Fame player
Deacon Jones is looking for one more sack.
During his playing days in the NFL from 1961 to 74 with the Rams, Chargers and
Redskins, Jones was one of the most ferocious pass rushers to ever play the game. He
sacked opposing quarterbacks with a vengeance rarely seen before his day, during his day
or since his day.
Retirement has taken Jones off the football field. No longer does he employ his
punishing headslap to devastate offensive linemen. No longer does he dominate in the way
that led him to eight Pro Bowls and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No longer is
his job, as he used to like to say, "to kill quarterbacks."
These days, Jones is still out to kill the opposition. Quarterbacks can breathe a deep
sigh of relief, though, because they are no longer his target.
Jones still spits fire, but these days hes trying to sack the woes faced by
inner-city kids who need a helping hand. He does so through his Deacon Jones Foundation,
whose mission is to provide inner-city youth the tools and the educational opportunities
they need to succeed.
"I came out of a hellhole and I intend to cover that up before I die," Jones
says. "Coming from a poor inner city myself, I have an intimate knowledge of all the
problems people face there."
Simply put, Jones is out to sack inner-city misery through a scholarship program
designed to also provide long-term life lessons, training and opportunity.
Jones is taking his vaunted headslap and trying to go upside the head of inner-city
despair. He is facing an opponent more diabolical than any quarterback he ever tried to
A childs enemy is his enemy. And he reads all about it in the essays kids fill
out when applying for a scholarship from the Deacon Jones Foundation.
"You should read some of these stories," Jones says. "Some of them will
break your heart. The kid tells you that there are times at night when hes got to
fall on the floor when hes trying to study. Hes got to study under the bed
because he lives in a neighborhood where guns are going off all the time. So
hes got to cover up the light. And his momma tells him to get on the floor and
study. These kids are under so much pressure it will drive you nuts."
His wife, Elizabeth, who is the chief operating and financial officer of the Deacon
Jones Foundation, says, "How these kids are as successful as they are under the
circumstances under which they live, with gunshots and graffiti and gangs and drugs,
its amazing. Its really amazing."
Wrote a teenager in the essay section of her application to the Deacon Jones Foundation
Scholars Program: "The greatest challenges in my community are violence and drugs. I
think that the violence is a challenge in my community because there are a lot of gangs in
my neighborhood and are very hard to control. These gangs beat each other senseless and
could hurt anyone who looks at them the wrong way. Its frightening just to cross
them on the same street, not knowing what will happen. I also think drugs are a challenge
in my community because people never stop to think of the consequences, and people are
always being pressured to use them. Although I counted these things separately, they
always seem to go hand in hand."
Jones has identified the problem. He wants to be the solution. And when Deacon Jones
sets his mind to something, he knows only one way to go about it. Full speed ahead.
Attack, attack, attack.
"When he made this commitment to help inner-city kids, it simply wasnt a
halfway commitment," says Merlin Olsen, a former teammate of Jones with the Rams.
"It was a full-blown commitment for Deacon."
Elizabeth Jones says, "He spends every waking moment that hes not doing
something else at least thinking about it. And I think he probably thinks about it 24
hours a day truthfully. Its so important to him. Its gotten a life of its
Attack, attack, attack. Just as was the case when he was a football hero, Jones seems
bigger than life in his latest starring role.
He is like a four-star general leading his army into battle.
"I have the nucleus the power," Jones says. "I have cooperation,
I have the people, I have the resources to do this job. And I like doing big things that
nobody else wants to touch."
He is like a minister giving an inspirational Sunday sermon, his voice rising to the
occasion, as he preaches, "I can do it. Im doing it. And thats my whole
motivation. My whole motivation is that I can do it, I will do it and I should do
His voice now more calm, but his resolve made of steel, Jones is like a street-wise,
bigger-than-life, nail-spitting, baby-kissing man of the people out to rid the world of
injustice as he says, "Deacons on the case."
A poverty-filled childhood
The Deacon Jones Foundation is providing that which young Deacon never had.
Money. Or at least enough money.
Growing up, Deacon became all too well-acquainted with poverty.
His family of 10 was squeezed into too little space, a mere four rooms, when he was
growing up in Eatonville, Fla. Young Deacon took on the kind of jobs reserved for kids
with strong backs and weak bank accounts. In the heat of summers he would work in the
fields. The worst memories are of picking watermelons.
"That is the hardest work ever," Deacon says.
It was as though the watermelons were filled with cannonballs. What is a refreshing
fruit treat to most was 40 to 75 pounds apiece of lifting agony to Deacon. The sun would
not yet have been nudged from a night of slumber when Deacon would start his workday. The
sun would already have punched out for the day when Deacon would finally stop lifting. In
the watermelon game, there is a pitcher and a catcher. The pitcher is down on the ground.
The catcher is up on the truck. Together they move through the field, one backbreaking
watermelon at a time.
"If youre the pitcher, youve got a problem," Deacon says with the
kind of laughter that is more incredulous than full of good humor. "After about four
hours of that, it was like you were picking up the Empire State Building and throwing it
up on the truck."
When Deacon graduated from high school, he left the fields of Florida for the promise
of work in New York.
"Id lost my zest for education," Deacon says. "I figured I could
make my money in the street."
His mother told him he was going to go to school. Deacon said he was going to go to New
York. Youthful bullheadedness won out. Or lost, as it would turn out.
Deacon went to New York on the back of a truck. He practically starved to death once he
was there when the job he had been promised didnt materialize. He was out of his
element. Out of money. Out of luck.
Out of options, he called home for help. His mother borrowed some money and was all set
to send it to Deacon via Western Union when she heard a voice that said, "Dont
She didnt. Deacon had to work his way back to Florida.
"When I got back home, she didnt have to convince me about going to
school," Deacon says.
A childhood of not enough money and a lesson learned the hard way about education. Call
these the early seeds that were planted for a life that would someday harvest the Deacon
Death, taxes and racism
Fellow Hall of Famer
John Mackey (left)
with Jones at '99 gala
The Deacon Jones Foundation is providing that which young Deacon never had.
If you were a young black man growing up in the South when Deacon Jones did, the most
plentiful opportunities were the opportunities to be treated as a second-class citizen.
Death, taxes and racism were the only givens.
There was no Deacon Jones Foundation to help out a young black man. Back then, society
wasnt doing anything to give Deacon a helping hand. Society seemed more inclined to
give him and those around him a hard time. Racism was everywhere.
Everywhere Deacon looked, it seemed as though there was an uphill climb. If there was
anything like a Deacon Jones Foundation to level the playing field, he sure didnt
What he saw was intolerance. What he saw was a world in which hatred was skin-deep.
What he saw was that the color of his skin, and the color of the skin of the people in his
community, was like a magnet for ignorant behavior by white America.
And he saw it at a young age.
Deacon, not even a teenager yet, was standing outside of church after Sunday services.
Everyone was talking, mingling and in no rush to get anywhere when a car full of older
white kids came driving by, full of bad intent. A watermelon, obviously intended to mock
the black crowd with a racial stereotype, came flying out of the car. It hit an old black
woman who had no chance to get out of the way.
The car never even slowed down. Deacon took off, chasing after the car on foot.
"My first reaction was to try and get my hands on them," Deacon says.
"Here Im trying to catch a car. That had to be the stupidest thing in the
world. But you react to things.
I was so pissed off, I tried to catch them."
He felt something hit him in the head. He would be all right. The old woman would not.
She passed away a few days later.
The night of the incident, young Deacon went to a local pool hall to try to get the
wheels of justice moving. His uncle was a police officer. Deacon wanted to know if the
incident was going to be reported. The older men at the pool hall took a much more
nonchalant attitude than Deacon, realizing that their anger wasnt going to change
"(My uncle) ran the police force in Eatonville, but he couldnt do nothing
about it," Deacon says. "A black man couldnt arrest a white guy. So he
would have to go to Orlando and report to the county sheriff.
So we knew that would
be just a wasted trip downtown."
When Deacon was growing up, he had to drink from blacks-only water fountains. He had to
use blacks-only restrooms. He had to sit in blacks-only sections of restaurants. He had to
sit in the back of the bus. When he was playing college ball at Mississippi Vocational, he
and his black teammates had to sleep in cots in the opposing teams gym because
motels wouldnt take them.
At a young age, somewhere between 12 and 14 by his recollection, Deacon and some of his
friends went to Tinker Field in Orlando, Fla., to see the great black hope, Jackie
Robinson, play baseball. During the game, Robinson slid into second base, and the white
second baseman for the opposing team intentionally ground his cleats into Robinsons
hand, smiled at what he had done and then got away with it when the white umpire chose to
do nothing about it.
Deacon and half a dozen friends, sitting in the blacks-only section in the outfield of
the segregated ballpark, watched in anger. After the game, Deacon, a brash kid even then,
went up to Robinson near the dressing room.
Deacon wanted to know if Robinson, whose hand was bandaged, was angry.
"He didnt have any animosity in his heart," Deacon says. "Or he
didnt show any. I know he had to be pissed off. I know I would have been."
Robinsons words may have been spoken quietly, but dont confuse that with
acceptance of the situation.
Deacon said to Robinson, "I guess you get used to it."
Robinson responded, "No, son, you dont ever get used to it."
The behavior that Deacon himself would never get used to was far from over.
When he was in high school, a lump developed on his thigh. He would later learn that it
was a tumor. He went to a segregated hospital in Orlando. Black patients had to go to the
"The black wing" is how Deacon refers to it.
The hospital personnel insulted Deacons mother and family.
"The way they talked to you, you didnt want them to put you under,"
Not that he had that option anyway that day. Since it didnt appear that
Deacons problem was life-threatening at that moment, he was sent away. He had to
wait 10 days to be seen in the "black wing."
This despite the fact that the white section of the hospital had empty beds all over
"If they had a hundred beds open in the white wing, you could be dying and you
werent going to be put in the white wing," Deacon says.
Ultimately he had the surgery that resolved his problem, but that hardly puts the
hospitals admittance standards in any better light.
When Deacon was in college at South Carolina State, there was an incident in the
Orangeburg, S.C., bus station. The bus station had a fairly decent cafeteria for white
students and a dingy area in the back for the black students. During Thanksgiving break,
school was out, and the bus station was full of only black students. With no white
students around, the black students were using the entire bus station, getting service
without any of the usual problems being raised.
"There wasnt no other white people in the place, so what money does, they
call money the root of all evil," Deacon says, chuckling. "So as long as they
was taking in the cash, it was cool, you know, and no white people there."
That changed when a bus full of white passengers pulled into the station.
"The white people get off, and now were all in violation," Deacon says.
"And management called the police."
Management told the black students to get out and go to the blacks-only window in the
back. This met with resistance, prompting the call to the police.
The police came in force. Fully armed.
"Southern cops is always armed," Deacon says.
The black students dispersed.
Without violence. That day.
Not all incidents ended so calmly during the civil-rights movement taking place while
Deacon was growing up.
Deacon took part in the Lunch Counter March during his college days at South Carolina
State. The demonstration was sparked by the fact that some black kids were arrested for
trying to eat at a lunch counter. About a thousand protesters went downtown in groups of
50. The marchers were met halfway downtown by the police and fire trucks.
Stop, said the police.
Turn around, said the police.
Go back to the college, said the police.
No, no and no, said the demonstrators. The march continued toward the downtown area.
That was when the high-powered water hoses were turned on them. That was when the
German shepherds were turned loose on them. That was when they were rounded up and put in
a pen behind the jail.
When the water hoses were turned on the protesters, Deacon took off.
"I broke and ran," he says. "I ran right up into that alley. Had no out
to it. And they turned the hose loose right up in that alley on me, pinned me up against
the wall, and it ripped the back of my (suit), right down the back. I almost drowned, man.
I almost drowned, and I was a well-conditioned athlete. I couldnt move a muscle. It
had me pinned up against that wall, and I couldnt move."
After that experience, Deacon decided that the way to make his point was to be
successful on the football field. He was afraid of what he might do if he continued taking
part in demonstrations.
"Yep, because I was going to hurt somebody," he says. "I wasnt
going to take that.
See, I went through some of the training that we had during
that period. You know, for demonstrations and knowing how to handle yourself on the line.
People spit on you, somebody hits you, youve got to take that s---. And I saw right
then and there Id be a problem with the movement if I stayed out there.
"Deacon aint going to take this."
The Lunch Counter March led to Deacons scholarship being revoked at South
Carolina State. One of the assistant football coaches at South Carolina State was moving
on to Mississippi Vocational and told Deacon and some of the other black players who were
in the same boat that he could get them scholarships at the new school. Off went Deacon.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
"One of the worst moves I ever made," Deacon says. "Ohhhhhh, man, to
leave South Carolina, which is the mecca of bigotry, to go to Mississippi, thats the
So the bigotry was even worse in Mississippi?
"Ohh, ohhhhhh. I didnt know people could be treated that bad," Deacon
On their way to Mississippi Vocational, Deacon and friends had a flat tire in Alabama.
They stopped at a gas station, where an elderly white man fixed the tire. They asked if he
had a restroom, and he said yes. There was only one bathroom, and it had no sign that said
"colored" or "white" as was often the case. There was one water
fountain. Again, no signs that said "colored" or "white."
So, as the elderly white man changed the tire, the half-dozen-or-so black football
players started to use the restroom and water fountain.
No problems. No cross words.
Then the old white man took their money. Once the money was put away, everything
One of the black players was at the water fountain, and the old man let loose with the
"N" word and continued, "Get away from that water fountain. You all get the
hell out of here."
Whatever tolerance that existed while money was still to be earned got tossed aside
like three-day-old garbage once the money had been pocketed.
"Caught us by surprise," Deacon says. "We figured we was spending money
with this guy. (We figured) he aint gonna mind us getting no water and going to the
bathroom. And man, he just went off. So we all hopped in the car and got the hell out of
there, because we didnt really want no trouble."
Things went from bad to worse in Mississippi.
"They used (the N word) down there like its your first
name," Deacon says.
One time he and a buddy were driving through a tiny Mississippi town in a broken-down
station wagon. Just a couple of college students trying to meet up with a couple of girls.
They got lost, and the next thing they knew, they were being pulled over by a white,
Southern police officer.
"He saw two brothers in the car and pulled us over," Deacon says.
The police officer asked for Deacons drivers license. Deacon turned it
over, and the officer took a look at it and then asked, "Where are you boys
Deacon told him they were from the nearby college.
The white police officer then spit out the "N" word, before saying, "Get
back up to that college, and dont you ever let me catch you down here no more."
Deacon and his buddy drove off, but being young men in pursuit of their lady friends,
they turned around to continue their search.
"I thought about that afterward and how dumb and stupid that was," Deacon
says. "Because you know if hed have caught us down there, something bad would
have happened to us."
Something bad eventually did happen, although not that day and not for anything to do
with the young ladies. Nonetheless, it seemed inevitable that racism would result in
Deacon and the Mississippi police butting heads again.
In this instance, the police were in cahoots with the college. It was the Thanksgiving
holiday, meaning most of the students and faculty had gone home. Deacon and the other
football players who had arrived from South Carolina State that were originally from
Florida stayed on campus because they lacked the funds to return home. It was pretty much
a ghost town on campus with the exception of Deacon and his Florida friends.
It was just after dinner time, and Deacon & Co. were sitting in the student union
building, playing cards.
Bursting through a door came the local police.
"Scared the hell out of me," Deacon says.
The white police officers identified the black players from Florida and told them they
had an hour to pack their belongings.
"What the hell is going on?" Deacon asked at the time.
A police officer responded, "Shut up and get your s--- packed."
No explanation was given. The officers left with the promise to return soon. Deacon and
his friends huddled. What should they do? They had clothes at the cleaners. They had a car
elsewhere on campus. They didnt have the time to get any of these things. A debate
broke out over what to do.
Deacon ended the discussion when he said, "Ill tell you what were
going to do. Were going in here and pack our stuff and be ready when that man gets
back. These are Mississippi cops. You dont give them no static."
Deacon had bigger concerns than retrieving the laundry or the car. Anticipating the
return of the police, Deacon told his cohorts, "Everybody has got to be alert here.
If they take us out in the woods, every man for himself. OK, we aint going to just
sit here and let them hang us or put a bullet in my head. Im going to go down
One of the players cut up pieces of rope, which all of the players put in their
Recalling their thought process, Deacon says, "What we were going to do, if (the
police officer) pulled his car off the road, just take this little rope and put it around
his god damn neck and strangle the s--- out of him.
This was Mississippi and if you
are in a dark area, man, and youre with the police, youve got a problem."
The incident ended without violence. It turns out the college had gotten ahold of the
players records from South Carolina State and learned of their involvement with the
civil-rights movement. The Lunch Counter March was not viewed positively by their new
schools administration. They were being run off campus, but they didnt know
why the police were giving them a hard time at that moment.
Eventually the police returned. Deacon and some of his teammates were put in the
backseat of a squad car. Fortunately, the car never pulled over in the woods. It kept
going to the bus station.
The police officers led Deacon and the players out of the car, gave them bus tickets
and made a threat that started with the "N" word and finished with
"Dont you ever let me catch you back in Mississippi."
As Deacon sat on the bus after it took off, a thought crossed his mind: "Suppose
one of them cops would have had to pee? We were out in the country. And he stops and pulls
off on the side. You know, a lot of innocent people would have died. Because we were going
As for the police officers admonition that Deacon never return to Mississippi,
there would be no argument then or now.
"To this day, this hour that Im talking to you, I have never been back, I
never will go back and I have turned down big dollars down in Mississippi," Deacon
says. "Ive got a good buddy thats from down there, and he has this big
function down there every year. And I refuse to go, because I will never go back there
again as long as I live. I told my publisher that I wanted my book banned in Mississippi.
I didnt even want that sold down there."
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