Tennessee has finally decided to do right by Jackie Walker, the All-American linebacker whom many believe was simply the best ever to play that position for the Tennessee Volunteers. He will be inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Feb. 11 at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville.
He won’t be there to see it, however. Jackie Walker, who came out as a gay man during his senior year at the University of Tennessee, died of AIDS in 2002.
In 2007, Metro Pulse brought to light the lonely battle being waged by Marshall Walker, who had been struggling to gain recognition for his younger brother. Marshall will accept the honor in Jackie’s name.
Jackie Walker was a Knoxville native, a Fulton High School graduate, and by the time he played out his eligibility in 1971, he had become the first African-American to be selected Tennessee team captain (it was done by a vote of the players in those days) and the first black player from the Southeastern Conference to be named an All-American (he won that distinction twice).
An undersized linebacker whose playing weight was never more than 180, Walker terrorized opponents around the SEC. He received special attention from opponents like Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who designed “the Jackie Walker Play” to deal with the dynamic Tennessean.
Walker was a member of only the second class of Volunteers whose numbers included African-Americans and he fought through the double whammy of racism and homophobia to carve out a brilliant college career.