On Saturday, Texas Tech will travel to the famed Jack Trice Stadium to take on Iowa State. The stadium is special. It’s known to be packed with loyal fans, regardless of whether their beloved Cyclones are undefeated or winless. It’s known to be a place where major upsets can, and do, happen.
What may not be known by people outside of Ames unless you’re a diehard college football history enthusiast is who exactly the stadium is named after. I didn’t know until I read a great Spencer Hall article about him. Was Jack Trice a Heisman trophy winner at Iowa State? Or was he a coach who led the Cyclones to championship glory?
He was neither.
Jack Trice died at the age of 21, two days after playing in his second ever college football game for Iowa State College. He was the first African-American to play sports for Iowa State.
There are still questions to this day surrounding his death, but Trice died as a result of injuries sustained in an October 6, 1923 game against the University of Minnesota.
Some say Trice was targeted throughout the game because of his skin color. Others maintain his injuries were just a result of the risk associated with playing a violent game.
Trice was allegedly trampled after throwing a roll block, a maneuver that landed him on his back before multiple Minnesota players stampeded over him. This was the play that killed Jack Trice. His lungs were hemorrhaged and his insides were bleeding.
After Iowa State ended classes early on October 9 to honor his memory, Jack Trice was largely forgotten about for 50 years.
My favorite NFL team is the Minnesota Vikings. Our starting quarterback, the talented, young, and promising Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury before the season started, sidelining him at least until next year.
Tim Keown wrote a brilliant piece about Bridgewater and the sport of football’s “next man up” philosophy, and how we the viewers forget the football players we root for are people, not just pieces of a machine designed to entertain us. He noted that Bridgewater has disappeared from the public eye and is no longer available to the media.
Keown concludes: “[Next Man Up] passes for decorum inside a merciless culture, a way of ensuring a peaceful transition of power. It seems there's a corollary to Next Man Up: the necessary disappearance of the Last Man Down.”
The same could be said of Trice after his horrific death – he was buried, and so was his story of bravery and perseverance.
Jack Trice may have been forgotten forever by everyone except for the most avid college football historian, until 50 years later when the students of Iowa State began lobbying to name their new stadium after a fallen hero.
Initially they failed, as the stadium was called “Cyclone Stadium”. However, their efforts were successful to a great extent, as the playing field itself was named “Jack Trice Field” and a statue of Trice was erected on site as well.
In 1997, 74 years after his death, Iowa State finally re-named their football stadium “Jack Trice Stadium.”
In doing so, they have properly remembered not just an athlete, but a person who should never be forgotten. Jack Trice went up against the worst part of the sport of college football. He faced segregation quite literally until the day he died, staying in a segregated hotel away from his teammates the night before suffering his fatal injuries.
Trice’s efforts helped pave the way for other minority athletes to have a chance, and Iowa State’s efforts to name the stadium after him ensure that Trice’s story will never be forgotten.
Jack Trice never escaped hatred and bigotry during his time on earth, separated from justice, and, life itself, by the color of his skin. But his spirit and memory can never be separated from modern day college football.
For that, Jack Trice and Iowa State are owed a lot of praise. Jack Trice Stadium is the only collegiate stadium or arena named after an African-American.