On Wednesday, September 29, The Undefeated on ESPN+ will present “Rhoden’s HBCU Road Trip” – a new Black History Always special about intercollegiate football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The 30-minute piece will feature award-winning journalist William C. “Bill” Rhoden as he chronicles the legacy, tradition and rebirth of HBCU football, a sport he played as a standout, student-athlete at Morgan State University.
In Rhoden’s HBCU Road Trip, Bill travels in a recreational vehicle more than 2,500 miles in seven days, exploring the “Golden Era” of college football at HBCUs.
The special continues ESPN’s Black History Always storytelling initiative launched in February 2021 to curate original content celebrating Black history beyond the traditional month of February. As part of the project, The Undefeated on ESPN+ digital platform presents a new Black History Always special on the 29th of each month. Editions include, A Love Letter to Black Women (March); We are all Jackie (April); I Bear Witness — Darnella Frazier’s story after recording the killing of George Floyd (May); Finding Free, Ryan Russell’s story (June); Monochrome, Black skaters making Olympics history (July); and Sole Survivor, about sneaker-head Jaysse Lopez (August).
Prior to the integration of college football, HBCUs served as home to Hall of Fame athletes such as Willie Lanier (Morgan State), Walter Payton (Jackson State), Doug Williams (Grambling State) and Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State); and HBCU basketball Hall of Famers Willis Reed (Grambling State) and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (Winston Salem State). Historically Black Colleges and Universities created a path for Black athletes to become professional athletes.
Rhoden has observed these changes in HBCU football from its rise to a desire to thrive.
- New York – Rhoden revisits Yankees Stadium where the 1968 Morgan State University Bears faced the Grambling State University Tigers. He is joined by his former teammate Roland Nicholson who played in the historic “Whitney Young Classic,” 50-plus years ago.
- Salisbury, N.C. – An exploration of the birthplace of HBCU football in 1892 – the Biddle College (now Johnson C. Smith University) at Livingstone College game.
- Tallahassee, Fla. – A look at the home of Florida A&M University “Marching 100,” a program that revolutionized band routines that became the staple of halftimes at HBCU games.
- Orlando, Fla. – A conversation with legendary Grambling State player James “Shack” Harris, the first Black quarterback to start a game in the National Football League.
- Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala. – Examination of the game between the all-white University of Alabama and the integrated USC Trojans at Legion Field in 1970. The game changed the fortune of HBCU football. The pit stop includes a two-hour drive to Huntsville for an interview with Alabama A&M University quarterback Aqeel Glass, an NFL Draft prospect who chose to play at an HBCU.
- Memphis, Tenn. – A look at the rebirth of HBCU football with the arrival of football legends and current head coaches Deion Sanders (Jackson State) and Eddie George (Tennessee State), who led their teams in the 2021 Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis earlier this month.
The Undefeated will feature complementary content on Rhoden’s HBCU Road Trip including Rhoden’s first-person column, written and original sports content on the HBCU vertical, video stories and more.
The Undefeated on ESPN+
The Undefeated on ESPN+ enhances ESPN and Disney’s ongoing commitment to telling Black stories and establishes a year-round collaboration between the two brands that creates and curates content powered by The Undefeated. This includes a mix of premium storytelling, relevant collections from The Undefeated and ESPN+ libraries and additional special projects like Black History Always. The Undefeated on ESPN+ seeks to elevate Black voices in sports, highlight Black communities within sports and explore the positive off-field/off-court work of Black athletes and leaders.