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Nearly five decades after the University of Iowa president suggested honoring Duke Slater in the name of Iowa’s football stadium, state regents agreed Wednesday to designate the field at Kinnick Stadium in honor of the groundbreaking Black football player.
Slater was a tackle for Iowa from 1918 to 1921, leading the Hawkeyes to a conference title and a mythical national championship in his final year. He was the first Black student-athlete in school history to earn All-America honors. He later earned a UI law degree while playing in the NFL and became one of Chicago’s first Black judges.
“Duke is recognized as one of the greatest players in Iowa football history, and was a pioneer of breaking through racial barriers, both as a football player and throughout his professional life,” the UI said in a statement. “The University of Iowa believes the naming of Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium is the proper capstone to honor a remarkable Hawkeye and a remarkable citizen of our state.”
Slater, who died at 67 in 1966, was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of its 2020 centennial class and already had been named to the National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame and Iowa Sports Hall of Fame. In 1951, he was the first Black player inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame.
“We are proud and honored to name the Kinnick Stadium playing field as Duke Slater Field,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement, noting that a relief sculpture that depicts him and other players was part of the recent renovation of Kinnick’s north end zone.
“As the description on the relief statue states, ‘His life in football and beyond was defined by triumph and relentless breaking of boundaries,’” Barta said.
A permanent recognition of Duke Slater Field will be installed at the field later this summer. Both Slater and former Hawkeye Alex Karras — also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of its 2020 class — will be honored at the Oct. 9 Iowa vs. Penn State game.
The idea of naming the stadium after Slater was first brought up in 1972 when then-UI President Willard Boyd suggested Iowa Stadium be renamed for both Slater and Nile Kinnick. But members of the group advocating for the naming of stadium after Kinnick were not in favor of combining the two names. Upon further negotiations, the stadium was named after Kinnick while the UI’s latest freshman dormitory located close to the stadium — and now home to student-athletes — was named after Slater.
But the dorm’s connection with the football player has become widely forgotten.
“During my time as a player, I just saw Slater dorm, I didn’t know why they named it Slater,” Iowa athletics director of diversity, equity and inclusion and former Hawkeye football player Broderick Binns said during the On Iowa podcast in March. “I never put two and two together or it was never brought up in any of our meetings that Slater dorm is named after Duke Slater. This is who Duke Slater was, this is what he means to our program.”
The push for Slater’s name to appear resurfaced in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and a national reckoning of racial justice — and, with it, allegations of racial misconduct against several members of the Iowa football staff. Seven former players are now plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit set for a 2023 trial with head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former director of strength and conditioning Chris Doyle named as defendants.
Slater is credited as the first Black lineman in the NFL when he played for the Rock Island Independents in 1922. After a two-game stint with the Milwaukee Badgers, he played the rest of his career with the Independents through 1925, where he was the only Independent to make the All-Pro team three years in a row.
As the NFL looked to ban Black players, Slater persisted as a member of the Chicago Cardinals was one of the only Black football players in the NFL from 1927 to 1929, according to UI historian Neal Rozendaal. He retired with 10 All-Pro seasons under his belt in 1931 and went on to coach the Chicago Negro All Stars, Chicago Brown Bombers, Chicago Comets and Chicago Panthers, all teams of color that came in the wake of a 12-year ban of Black players from the NFL from 1934 to 1946.
Slater was named a finalist, but not inducted, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and 1971. From 1972 to 2019, Slater’s name did not make the list of finalists but did in 2020. He will be formally inducted next month.
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