Posted: March 16th, 2022
Bob Hayes — Sports Hero
One of my all-time inspirational heroes is Bob Hayes, known as the only athlete to win a gold medal in the Olympics and also a Super Bowl ring. Hayes as a young man with a great deal of athletic talent grew up in a segregated community in Jacksonville, Florida, but he went on to dazzle the world with his accomplishments. This paper details that rise to fame.
Bob Hayes struggled from childhood on to become what he knew he could become, and his career should serve as a positive role model for any young man caught in a socioeconomically underserved neighborhood with odds against him because of the color of his skin and because of racial stereotyping.
Bob Hayes’ Life and Times
Hayes was born to Mary (Green) Hayes and George Sanders on the 20th day of December, 1942 in a ghetto on the east side of Jacksonville, Florida. Sanders never adopted him and he actually grew up with three siblings and Joseph Hayes, who ran a shoeshine stand in what was known as “the Bottom” or “Hell’s Hole” in that Jacksonville ghetto.
According to the Gale Biography in Context, Hayes’ father warned him not to think too much about a career in sports. His father was very bitter about the segregated, racist Jim Crow conditions in Jacksonville at that time, and told Hayes: “Learn to shine shoes. Forget sports. You’ll never make any money messing with kids’ games.” But Hayes was so gifted even at a young age he knew he had a future in sports. For example, the Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives explains that Hayes — who was often “truant” from school — was so fast that he and his buddies would make extra money by setting up street races for Bob. They would solicit bets from non-believing witnesses and, according to the Scribner account, Hayes “never lost.”
After he became a football sensation at Matthew W. Gilbert High School in Jacksonville the track coach took him under his wing and coaxed him to join the track team. There, in a tryout, Hayes “outdistanced the squad’s sprinters wearing street shoes,” Scribner explains. He excelled in the high school track and football programs and though he was recruited by football powerhouses like Oklahoma, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State and the University of Southern California, he chose Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). On his application to FAMU, Hayes wrote that he wanted to “…be a professional football player and better the conditions of my family” (Gale). To say he was a standout there would be an understatement.
His university track accomplishments opened the door for him into big time track and field, and he got into the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo where he won gold medals in the 100 meter event and in the 4 x 100-meter relay. He tied the world record in the 100 meters (10.05 seconds). He became known as the “World’s Fastest Human.” After playing football for FAMU in the fall of his senior year he left school in the Spring and signed with the Dallas Cowboys — 3 years for $100,000 (Scribner). He was also given a Buick Riviera as a bonus.
In his rookie season with Dallas Hayes caught 46 passes for 1,003 yards; his 12 touchdown receptions and 21.8 yards per catch were the highest in the NFL that year. His second year with the Cowboys he gathered in 64 passes for 1,232 yards and he scored 13 touchdowns (Scribner). He was given the nickname “Bullet Bob Hayes” because no one could catch up to him. In fact, Scribner explains that defensive coordinators had to devise a special “zone defense” for Hayes because no defensive back could keep up with Hayes step for step.
He led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win in 1972 and made the Pro-Bowl three times, according to the Gale biography. He ended his career with 7,414 receiving yards and 71 touchdowns. But following his retirement from pro-football Hayes got heavily involved with drugs and alcohol and was arrested and sent to prison for “…selling narcotics” (Gale). He got out of prison after serving 10 months of a 5-year sentence, but “…he continued to struggle with drug and alcohol problems…moving in and out of rehab centers” (Gale). His involvement with drugs prevented him from not only getting into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, but from getting into the Cowboys’ “Ring of Honor” (Gale). Eventually, in 2001, he got into the Ring of Honor and in 2009 those who make decisions about the Pro-Football Hall of Fame inducted him posthumously in 2009 (www.profootballhof.com).
Why is Bob Hayes Inspirational To Me?
First of all, for Hayes to emerge from a Jacksonville ghetto and a poor family to become a great high school and college athlete — and later an Olympic and pro-football standout — is a huge accomplishment. I have enormous respect for how he did that.
Secondly, there are very few athletes (male or female) who can have two great careers in two different sports. Before Bob Hayes, other track and field athletes put on the pads and tried to make it in pro-football due to their speed; but few if any ever made it. Hayes showed his ability to adapt to the football game; he caught difficult passes and took a pounding from hard tackles as well as anyone.
Third, Hayes’ blinding speed made it impossible for defensive backs to catch him. So, because of this unique athlete with eye-popping skills, NFL defenses had to innovate in order to try and stop him. Hence, the “zone defense” was born — all because of Bob Hayes.
Fourth, after Hayes was imprisoned for violating drug laws, he got out of prison and talked to kids about the dangers of getting involved with drugs. That is impressive.
Fifth, in his 2nd year with the Cowboys Malcolm X was murdered; in his 4th year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated; media people kept asking him, “What do you people want?” But Hayes let his talent do the talking for him and I respect that a lot; he was not a civil rights leader or a public speaker and so he was smart to ignore the questions and just play.
Gale Biography in Context. “Bob Hayes.” Retrieved July 29, 2013, from Biography in Context,
Web. (2013): pp. 1-2.
Pro-Football Hall of Fame. “Bob Hayes.” Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://www.profootballhof.com
Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. “Bob Hayes.” Retrieved July 29, 2013, from Biography in Context (2013): pp. 1-3.
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