Running Past Bigotry
Norris Stevenson was the first black student-athlete to attend Mizzou on a football scholarship.
Norris Stevenson, the first black student athlete to attend Mizzou on a football scholarship, died March 3, 2012, of colon cancer. He was 72.
The Vashon High School (St. Louis) graduate came to MU in 1957. In those days, the marching band played “Dixie,” and a fraternity waved a Confederate flag after touchdowns.
On the field, Stevenson was a physical fullback in Coach Dan Devine’s offense. He rushed for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns, and he caught three more during his career.
“He loved Mizzou — that was very clear to me — and we’re all very sad to have lost Norris,” said Mizzou Coach Gary Pinkel in a press release. “He’ll be remembered around here as a very important figure in our history.”
His best game was a 169-yard performance in 1960 to help Mizzou beat Oklahoma 41–19 in Norman. The win vaulted the Tigers to their first AP No. 1 ranking, and it was a big step toward the Big Eight championship, the program’s last outright league title.
“He tore them up that day,” says John Kadlec, BS Ed ’51, M Ed ’52, former Mizzou lineman and assistant coach. “Of course, that’s pretty good at Oklahoma. But that’s miniscule compared to what you are in life after you played football.”
Stevenson was drafted by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 1961 and went on to play for the Edmonton Eskimos and British Columbia Lions in Canada. He coached track and field in St. Louis at Forest Park and Florissant Valley community colleges for almost 30 years.
“He really liked football, but he loved track and field,” says daughter Loren Wilson, BJ ’88, who remembered first hearing about her humble father’s place in MU history during a trip to Mizzou with her high school marching band. “I said, ‘What? I think that’s kind of a big deal, Dad.’ ”
The MU Athletics Hall of Fame inducted Stevenson in 2001, and he helped Pinkel and MU Athletics Director Mike Alden make Mizzou a more welcoming environment for its student-athletes.
A scholarship was created in Stevenson’s name, and the Norris Stevenson Plaza of Champions was built near the west entrance to Memorial Stadium.