Sylvester Croom Jr., born September 30th, 1954, was seemingly destined to be an athlete. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Croom was no stranger to racism and learned early on that his home town was a less-than-ideal environment for someone of color.
Fortunately, at the time Croom was ready to attend college, the University of Alabama was ready to recruit African-American athletes. Under Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Croom was recognized as the Southeastern Conference “Outstanding Player” in 1971. Not only was he the recipient of coveted individual honors, Croom also played an instrumental role in the Crimson Tide’s three SEC championships from 1971-74.
While Sylvester Croom was wildly successful on the collegiate level, he played only one year for the New Orleans Saints in the National Football League. It wasn’t until his playing days were over, however, that Croom would really make an impact on the sport of football and the Civil Rights movement.
The University of Alabama hired Croom as an assistant football coach, where he remained for the next 11 seasons. Thereafter, he spent time as a running back coach in the NFL with Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. Croom had built a strong reputation both on and off the field, which earned him the respect of his peers and football fans across the country. With ample experience at the collegiate and professional level, it should come as no surprise that his coaching skills raised the eyebrows of the athletic directors everywhere. It wouldn’t have been a surprise, if there were other African-American head coaches in the South.
While SEC rosters were racially diverse, the conference didn’t hire its first African-American head football coach until 2004. The hire was made by Mississippi State and the man they hired was Sylvester Croom.
In a 2004 interview, Croom acknowledged the symbolism of the hire “There’s much more at stake here than football. The fact that I’m African American, that I’m the State football coach…I think it will have a positive impact on race relations.”