James, who was the first black scholarship football player at Auburn in 1969, played for the Tigers when I was an assistant coach at Alabama. I recruited the first black football player to sign at Alabama, Wilbur Jackson, who was a freshman in 1970.
I am very familiar with the challenges those kids faced at that time in our history and the recruiting process in general during that era. I don't know of any incidents where they were isolated by their teammates or the fans, but I don't know if many people realize the significance they had in the history of college football in this state.
James Owens played fullback for Auburn from 1969-72 and is a retired minister.
What a great example James Owens was then, and still is today. It is impossible for me or any of his teammates to realize how much courage it took to do what he was willing to do in 1969. That is why I think calling the award the James Owens Courage Award is so appropriate.
To me courage is not lack of fear, it is mastering fear and controlling it. He had to have fear, but he was a strong enough man to overcome it and he has been a great example ever since.
Personally, I would like to see the award expanded to the entire university instead of just keeping it for the football team. I think the significance of this honor can compare favorably to other major awards that are presented by the university.
There are people who went to business school, vet school, engineering school, architecture or whatever who may be deserving of a courage award. There could be other athletes, whether they be basketball players, members of the track team or whatever, who would merit consideration for it, too.
I think this award is too significant to be confined just to the football. That is a compliment to James and what he stands for in his life.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.