Last evening I watched a PBS documentary on the legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson. Although I know the story very well, like most people of my generation it is difficult to watch and observe the horrible racism and just sheer ignorant disrespect that came and still comes from people toward others who may be of a different ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc. While I have observed this behavior and attitude from time to time, it is simply not a part of my world and never has been and is sickening when revealed.
My personal experience in this realm is actually the opposite of what I describe above. In sports and business I have had friends of all colors and felt the strong bonds of leadership from many of my black teammates and associates. At UCLA, we had an All-America flanker, Wally Henry, who helped me navigate the world of college football on that level and showed me friendship and leadership which makes me eternally grateful. I remember going to a party at Wally’s apartment after one of our games. I was the only white person there and never felt anything but accepted. Perhaps that is why my world view in this matter is what it is -- I don’t care what ethnic group someone belongs to, just whether or not they are nice, decent, warm, smart and friendly.
I think I also get a lot of this perspective from my hero, mentor and partner, NFL legend and Hall of Fame player, Raymond Berry. Raymond has never seen or judged someone by the color of their skin. In fact, Raymond is one of the least judgmental people I have ever known. A few of the following anecdotal stories will reveal this great man’s character. When you get to know Raymond, you will discover that in addition to being a world class athlete, what made and makes Raymond a great man is who he is when no one is looking or paying attention.
As I describe this first story, it is 1955 and segregation is rampant. Raymond was a rookie with the then Baltimore Colts, his roommate and best friend was a black rookie quarterback named Leroy Vaughn. Leroy, by the way, is the father of former major league great Mo Vaughn. Leroy describes their friendship “as if they were drawn together by a magnet”. In those segregated days, Raymond would go with Leroy to the black neighborhoods to see a movie, eat or whatever because Leroy couldn’t go to the white sections. Vaughn remembered Berry for his character and drive. Bigotry, he said, was absent. “I’d been around long enough to smell it,” Vaughn said, “but I didn’t smell it at all. Raymond and I really became friends.” “Who would have thought, back then, that the best friend of a white guy from Texas would be a black quarterback.”
This next story is interesting because it is so uniquely Raymond. In the summer of 1959, the Colts and the Giants were going to play an exhibition game in Dallas, a replay of the previous year’s championship game. In segregated Dallas, the black players from both teams were not able to stay in the same hotel as the white players and were understandably angry and upset, to the point where they discussed striking the game to make their point. They ultimately played but the Colts Hall of Fame running back Lenny Moore recalled years later that the only person to say anything about this terrible situation was Raymond Berry, who came around to express how sorry he was for the entire situation. Not the owner, coach, general manager or anyone else, just Raymond, a 26 year old kid from Texas who had the sensibility and decency to recognize a wrong and actually say something about it. Lenny has loved Raymond as a teammate and friend over all the years since.
The last story is quick and in a way cute. In 1963 the Colts drafted Willie Richardson, a wide receiver, from an all-black college, to eventually replace Raymond. During training camp, Raymond invited Willie to his home for dinner and Willie was understandably surprised that the star receiver, a white guy, was inviting him to his home to have dinner with his family. Raymond’s response was that the kid seemed scared to death in training camp and Raymond just wanted him to feel at home and welcome. He might have noticed that Willie was black but surely didn’t care.
One of the things I am most proud of at HBW, due in part to the lifelong influence of Raymond, is the diverse makeup of HBW, both within the company as employees and in the field with our partners and associates.
In the early days of HBW, we would go to a carrier meeting and it would seem like the “good old boy network” with almost no diversity. As our HBW organization expanded and our people began to qualify for trips and conventions, these meetings definitely changed, and we stood out as a melting pot in contrast to the typical industry crowd. Within HBW’s home office employee group and throughout the organization, we have people of color, including women at the management and executive level. I hold women in high esteem, admiring and cherishing my wife, daughter and granddaughter. Our in-house legal counsel also happens to be my older sister, so I am obligated to defer to her opinions as a result.
HBW does not judge people based on religion, ethnicity, sex, etc. We want to and intend to live in a world where, as Martin Luther King said, “People are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” As long as I am here, HBW will unequivocally operate with this premise and like Raymond, we do not care what background someone might be from, but only what kind of person they are. I thank the Good Lord for giving us examples like Jackie Robinson and Raymond Berry because of who they were and are and what they stood for and still represent.
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