Calvin Patterson broke a significant racial barrier at Florida State in 1968 to become the first African-American football player and a civil rights groundbreaker. During the FSU/UM game, the commentators mentioned Calvin Patterson as the first Black player to accept a scholarship at FSU but never played a single down for the school, prompting many to know who he was.
Who was Calvin Patterson?
Calvin Patterson, a running back from Miami, enrolled at Florida State in 1968, one year before J.T. Thomas ‘an All-America cornerback who later won four Super Bowl rings as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense,’ arrived in Tallahassee. But because Patterson never played in a game at FSU. His tragic story has not been largely highlighted.
Florida State was slow to desegregate its student body. A handful of black students began to enroll in classes in the mid-1960s, but having an African-American representing the Seminoles on the football field was an entirely different matter on the lily-white campus.
Patterson like many other African-Americans who led the fight for equal rights for African-Americans in the 1960s broke the color line and endured insults, threats, and intimidation. Warren who came to Florida State in 1966 on a football scholarship and roomed with Patterson in the football dorm. “His efforts allowed other African-Americans to follow in his footsteps by attaining equal access to and scholarships from FSU and its football program.
In 1968, football coach Bill Peterson decided to recruit two black football players in 1968. Peterson and his coaches targeted Patterson, a fleet-footed runner from Palmetto High School in Miami, and Ernest Cook Jr., a bruising fullback from Daytona Beach, Fla. After Patterson and Cook signed to play for the Seminoles, each player was inundated with racist hate mail. The letters were never signed and didn’t have return addresses. Nearly all of them were laced with bigotry and a stern warning: Don’t come to Florida State, or else.
Cook took the threats so seriously, he changed his mind and attended Minnesota. “I had a wonderful recruiting experience at Florida State, but there was an organized hate mail campaign that really concerned my parents about my safety,” Cook said. “I was able to take advantage of other offers and visited other schools, including Minnesota. When I visited Minnesota, I became enamored with that institution.”
What was Calvin Patterson Cause of Death?
Patterson died on August 16, 1972, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his stomach. Patterson pointed the barrel of a .38 revolver at his stomach and pulled the trigger before the Seminoles started football practice in what would have been his senior season. When police arrived at the home Patterson shared with an FSU professor, a crumpled FSU football schedule lay at Patterson’s feet. He asked a police officer to hold his hand while blood spilled from his belly. Patterson bled to death before the ambulance carrying him reached the hospital.
According to Patterson’s friends, he never felt completely accepted by his teammates, coaches or classmates. Even many of the black students enrolled at Florida State ostracized Patterson because he dated a white woman. Many of the students at nearby Florida A&M, a historically black college, resented Patterson because he was enrolled at the white kids’ school.
When they also said he died at the age of 22, I wanted to learn more about what I assumed would be a tragic story of accidental death. Unfortunately, it’s an even sadder tale of a young man who only wanted to play the sport he loved and an academic institution that tried for over 30 years to coverup its racist, inhumane, and downright deplorable actions towards him. Definitely an article worth reading, especially for Floridians and FSU fans (FAMU, we’re in there, too).
Lo WantitAll wrote “Shout out to Calvin Patterson, first Black player on FSU that never played in 1968 that paved the way for all the many, many Black players they’ve recruited. These days they wouldn’t dare not have any Black players but I digress.”