Cookie Gilchrist paid a dear price for being blunt. After listening to a great discussion on Friday’s John Murphy Show about the upcoming ceremony honoring Mr. Gilchrist on the Wall of Fame Sunday, it was mentioned that were it not for his controversial nature, Cookie would likely (and should) be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I couldn’t agree more.
Many reading this were probably not alive when Cookie made his splash in Buffalo during the AFL championship years, nor know very much about his background other than being a star running back from the 1960s AFL teams. Truth is, Cookie’s time in Buffalo was only a sliver of his vibrant history.
Tim Graham, journalist for the Buffalo News and one of the best writers of our era to capture the essence of a person wrote the this piece about Cookie in 2011 after his death. If you really want to know why Cookie was so unique, this article nails it.
What happened to Cookie as far as being cast as an outsider is something I can relate to personally and professionally. When you are deemed a “trouble-maker” because you’re not afraid to speak loudly for those with no voice, you learn how fast people and to what extent people will go to shut you up.
Then when you die, these same people will fall all over themselves talking about what a ‘visionary’ you were. But only after you’re dead. That’s the crazy thing about our species. We expend inordinate amounts of energy protecting our perceived social standing.
Cookie wasn’t afraid to challenge Ralph Wilson with impunity. Gilchrist was castigated because he reviled at the notion of players being treated like cattle and wasn’t afraid to speak up about the injustice being served by big league owners making inordinate amounts of money on the backs of underprivileged players.
We’re still fighting social injustice every bit as much as we were 60 years ago. And we still destroy many of the messengers along the way. Then when they are dead we will honor them as if they were our best friends. Why do we wait until people are dead before we do the right thing? Makes me shake my head on a regular basis.
Cookie Gilchrist lived a life of complete authenticity. I’ll forever admire him for that particularly unusual quality. One of the most impressive examples of his authenticity was when he refused to be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. It is said he did so because he believed it was a bigoted organization. If that indeed was what he believed to be true, then I applaud his “putting his money where his mouth was” and turning down the honor.
It was at the height of Cookie’s career in Buffalo when I “came of age” as a Bills fan. Gilchrist highlighting racial injustice had a profound effect on me growing up in WNY. I distinctly remember having conversations with adults as a ten year-old kid trying to understand why everyone didn’t agree with what Cookie said about racism.
And because Cookie didn’t behave and be grateful for what pittance he was being paid, he was deprived of the honor bestowed upon lesser candidates on the Wall of Fame. It’s a very sore spot for fossilized Bills fans like myself who remember only too well the price Cookie paid for ‘speaking his mind’.
Like many other Bills fans of a certain age, now I can check one more thing off my list of things that should happen before death… Cookie belongs on the Wall, though he still might refuse to show up for the honor if he was alive.
Glad to still be alive to see unfinished business like this being taken care of by the Pegulas. It shows a tremendous amount of respect toward the older part of the fan base, especially those of us who’ve carried some resentment about these issues for decades.
Cookie’s life and death had a profound effect on many of us ‘oldies’ who grew up in WNY. It’s reassuring to know his legacy will live on and he will be honored and appreciated in a way few “trouble-makers” ever see while they’re (we’re ;) alive. Better late than never!
Editor’s babble: Cookie Gilchrist was a childhood hero and I’ll be forever grateful for the profound influence he had on shaping my personal philosophy of life. If you can stand the babble, you can also find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.