Texans Ambassador Profile: Jerry LeVias

Jerry LeVias likes talking to groups of kids. He has a powerful story to tell, and he's there to make a difference.

The kids sometimes are indifferent until he tells them he once played football.

"They look at my size and say, 'You played?'" LeVias said. "It's just the idea that you tell them that you once played football, and when you get through showing them the broken fingers and scars, they get the idea."

Now he's got their attention, and they might not be ready for what they hear. Yes, he explains, he played football in the Southwest Conference at Southern Methodist University. He was the first black scholarship player in the SWC back in the 1960s.

Cool, they say. Not really. LeVias was called all kinds of vile names. He was spat upon, threatened and berated because of his color. For every touchdown he scored, there were a thousand heartaches.

It took LeVias decades to work through the trauma of his football life. A documentary in 2004 on his trailblazing path through the previously all-white Southwest Conference finally allowed him to express his feelings and to use them to help future generations.

In his final season at SMU, LeVias set a school record with 80 catches for 1,131 receiving yards. He received the Fort Worth Kiwanis Club Award for Sportsmanship.

And, he endured.

LeVias saw fans show up with noose ropes and black cats bumped on the field. At TCU one year, there was a phoned-in death threat.

LeVias has found an outlet for expressing his experiences through working with the Boys and Girls Harbor in LaPorte. He signed on with the Texans Ambassadors program three years ago for the same reason.

The Texans Ambassadors are former NFL players who live in the Houston area. They work with the team on community programs. It gave LeVias another platform for working with kids.

"I wanted to show support for the city and the team," LeVias said. "One of the things that happened when the Oilers left, it kind of left a community without anything to pull for. You know how important sports are and how important a winning team is.

"The Texans have been supportive of Boys and Girls Harbor. It's hard sometimes to get these kids' attention, and then they say 'You played football?' It opens the door to their minds."

LeVias came out of segregated Beaumont Hebert High School into the glare of racial upheaval.

Still, he excelled. He was an All-SWC receiver three straight years (1966-1968) for the Mustangs and he was a first team All-American his senior year. He also was academic All-American and graduated with a degree in marketing.

LeVias (5-10, 177) was the American Football League rookie of the year in 1969 with the Houston Oilers. He played for two seasons for the Oilers and four with the San Diego Chargers before deciding to move on to the real world.

"I was trying to be a successful businessman, or a successful person," LeVias said. "Now I've gone from success to significance, making a difference in a person's life, or a kid's life."

The ride from success in football to significance as a person was a rocky one for LeVias. He carried the racial slurs and injustices hidden within. He couldn't talk about his experiences for many years.

The documentary finally allowed LeVias to let the hurt out.

"I was so guarded with myself," LeVias said. "It was almost like post-traumatic stress. When I spoke to Dr. Martin Luther King when I was a freshman (at SMU), he said, 'Always keep your emotions in control.'

"So I went through life with no emotion when things hurt, never being able to cry, not being able to rebel and keeping all my emotions inward.

"Now, I'm able to talk about it. Flashbacks occur, but with a little wisdom."

LeVias likes dealing with kids 8-14. He wants to catch them in early development.

"The teachers and principals give them my history of what I did and it makes an impression on the kids, and not only on the athletic side but the education side because I did make Academic All-American," LeVias said. "It adds a little more interest to the kids. We're trying to do all we can to get kids to pay attention to education.

"Being an Ambassador is not just being an ambassador for the football team, it's about being an ambassador for education. It's one way you can get their attention."

LeVias is a walking history lesson.

"Some parents ask what it was like, and a lot of kids don't even know the history of where we came from as black athletes and black people, period," LeVias said. "I'm in a unique position that I have history with me, not just with football but changes in the country, changes in attitude."

LeVias said bringing his history into the present has been like a 12-step program.

"For a long time, I couldn't talk about it; it was hurtful," he said. "I guess I was guarded. With the knowledge I have of going through it, I feel I can show other people how to be patient and think about getting along with each other. It's an everyday thing.

"It gave me the opportunity to drop back on the strength of what I did, why I did it and who I am. We say we're all children of God, we're all human beings."

LeVias is pleased that he's reached a feeling of significance.

"You grow and mature and learn how things go," he said. "It's called being adaptable. You have to adjust. That's one of the things I can pass on to the guys that are playing now."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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