First University of Oklahoma African-American
football player. Played from 1956-1959
By Kevin Flaherty, class of 2004
For Prentice Gautt, playing for the Oklahoma
Sooners was a lifelong dream. It almost didn't happen for
one key factor Gautt is black.
The final decision for Brown v. Board of
Education happened in 1954. Just two years later, Gautt lived
his dreams as the first African-American football player for
the Sooners, under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson.
Gautt played in the first game to integrate
Oklahoma high school football, in which he led Douglass High
School to a 13-6 victory. He was the first African-American
to play in the Oklahoma high school all-star game.
Gautt's experience with integration took
him to his next test. The Oklahoma Sooners were the nation's
best team and were in the midst of a 47-game winning streak.
Wilkinson had built a football powerhouse
of all-white farm boys, and Gautt said people were not ready
to for a black player yet.
"It was just two years after the Brown
v. Board of Education decision to integrate schools,"
Gautt said. "It was not the most popular thing to add
a black to that dynasty. He (Wilkinson) was the elixor of
opportunity for me."
Wilkinson took the chance and was rewarded.
Gautt was a star running back in the Oklahoma split-T offense
and led the Sooners in rushing in 1958 and 1959. He was named
the 1959 Orange Bowl MVP by rushing for 94 yards on six carries.
His 15.7 yards per carry still stands as a Sooner bowl record.
He was a two-time All-Big Eight player. Gautt also was a star
in the classroom, earning academic All-American honors.
Off the field, Gautt had to cope with racism
and prejudice. On several occasions, Gautt was not allowed
to eat with his team at restaurants nor allowed in the same
places. His teammates backed him up in moments of prejudice,
and at one restaurant, refused to eat as well. The team wound
up eating elsewhere where Gautt could be served.
Wilkinson's office door was always open for
Gautt. Wilkinson was like a father figure to him while he
played, and the relationship blossomed to friendship after
Gautt left Oklahoma.
After college, Gautt spent seven years in
the NFL playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis
After his playing days were finished, Gautt
pursued a doctorate in counseling psychology at Missouri,
and was named assistant commissioner of the Big Eight in 1979.
When the Big Eight changed to the Big 12 in 1996, Gautt took
the position of associate commissioner and has held it since.
Most of his work can be done at home here in Lawrence, but
he also travels for different Big 12 Conference and NCAA events.
Gautt currently oversees the Big 12 Life
Skills program, working with the Student Athlete Advisory
Committee and the Big 12 board of directors. The Life Skills
program is a community leadership course in which over 4,000
Big 12 student-athletes participate in charities and student
He also assists with estabilishing guidelines
for Big 12 academic honor teams, the commissioner's honor
roll and other areas involving recognition for academic accomplishments.
Gautt said one of the Big 12's founding goals
was to create a higher standard for the student-athlete.
Though Gautt is nearing retirement, he is
still extremely active within the conference. He meets often
with conference coaches to talk about creating opportunities
for minority coaches.
For his efforts, the University of Oklahoma
named an academic study center the Dr. Prentice Gautt Academic
Study Center in 1999 and awarded him with an honorary doctorate
in a ceremony in May 2003.
Bo Carter, Big 12 associate commissioner
of media relations, said Gautt deserved all the honors.
"He a great guy and extremely community
oriented," Carter said. "Truly one of the classiest
people in college athletics and an outstanding person."