(February 27, 2020 / JNS) In a 1961 game, Jerry Fishman, the only Jewish player on the University of Maryland (UMD) football team, told Darryl Hill, the first black player on the United States Naval Academy football squad, “I’m going to be your biggest nightmare.”
A year later, after being recruited by UMD assistant coach Lee Corso, Hill and Fishman were on the same team at UMD, which prior to that had been segregated. Hill, a wide receiver, broke the color barrier in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), though he told Corso that he “was no Jackie Robinson,” referring to the famous player who broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball just 15 years earlier. With Hill’s arrival, schools in the ACC threatened to leave the conference, though UMD held its ground.
At UMD, Hill and Fishman wound up facing a mutual nightmare, consisting of bigotry on and off the field—a story of perseverance that Fishman and Hill told JNS in separate interviews.
“When I came to Maryland, Darryl was more in tune with racial discrimination,” said Fishman. “I was in tune with ethnic [discrimination], being Jewish.”
Fishman guided Hill around campus when the latter visited the school to decide whether to attend. Upon doing so, the two formed a close friendship that included Hill helping Fishman with academics.
“It was a sort of a natural bond,” said Fishman.
Out of 38,000 students, only 32 black students were enrolled at UMD in 1962, though there was a “healthy Jewish student community,” said Hill. Some of Hill and Fishman’s friends on campus were Jewish. One of those friends was the late Jay Nussbaum, who eventually became an executive at Xerox, Oracle and Citigroup.
Fishman noted that there were a few players on the team who were unfriendly towards Hill; however, “we let them know very early that ‘if you’re going to mess with Darryl, you’re going to mess with me.’ And they knew they weren’t going to mess with me.”
‘My father’s drinking buddies were Jewish’
Hill was born in 1943 and grew up in Washington, D.C. His father, Kermit, owned and operated Hill’s Transfer Company, which was one of the largest black-owned commercial trucking companies in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. He delivered furniture for furniture and appliance stores.
Hill grew up with his father’s friends, including Jewish ones, who were in the furniture and appliance business. One of Kermit’s business associates was the late Simon Krupsaw, who owned Old Antique House on Pennsylvania Avenue, where Hill and his father would go upstairs and watch parades down the street.
“My father’s drinking buddies were Jewish,” said Hill. “I kind of grew up around that world; it was normal and natural for me. But there were people who weren’t happy with the situation.”
One day, Hill and his father were negotiating a contract with Sun Radio, a radio and television store whose principal owners were Jewish. When the younger Hill was tough and put the owners in a corner, they would turn to Hill’s father and ask, “Well, Kermit, what do you think about that?”
“My father would always kind of back down. When we were going home, I was kind of pissed at him,” said Hill, who added that he told his father that “Jewish businessmen are tough.”
“He said, ‘Look, that’s why I took you. In the 1940s and ’50s and ’60s, for me as a black man, to stay in business, I couldn’t be too aggressive,’ ” recalled Hill, who said he regretted being angry at his father.
Nonetheless, “these guys were his friends,” said Hill, who touted them as tough businessmen and that after that incident, that same group of business owners told him they were proud of him.
‘Most guys would turn their back on it, but it was my nature not to’
Born in 1943, Fishman grew up in a two-bedroom house in Connecticut with one brother and one sister. Despite growing up non-religious, though he had a bar mitzvah, he faced anti-Semitism, saying he “rebelled against it and any form of bigotry or social injustice was big on my list of hate. I couldn’t handle that, and anybody that approached me with it was in for a battle.”
An example of anti-Semitism Fishman faced was golfing, in which he wouldn’t be able to play immediately, as the range staff knew he was Jewish.
“They used to give you a bag and you’d go walk 18 holes, if I’d get one occasionally,” said Fishman, referring to when he asked why he wasn’t given the equipment to play immediately.
Another kid who was Jewish told him that it was because he’s Jewish, and that he wouldn’t get a bag until “all the Italian kids go first.”
“They don’t like me down there in the South any more than they like you.”
“It was obvious we were being discriminated against,” said Fishman. “In sports, the kids would call you names if you were Jewish not any more than a black person would get discriminated against, probably a lot less, because as Darryl used to say, ‘Look at our skin tones. They know who to go after first.’ ”
Fishman remembered hearing “Jew this” and “Jew that,” and anti-Semitic slurs, including “Sheeny,” meaning an “untrustworthy Jew,” and k***.
He would ask his father what words such as k**e meant and was told that “it’s just not a nice word that people call Jewish people.”
Fishman said he was too young to respond, but as he got “bigger and older, that’s when I started responding to this stuff.”
He was recruited by UMD assistant coach Whitey Dovell, who later went on to coach in the NFL.
A 230-pound middle linebacker, Fishman used his stature to his advantage not only on, but off the field. He said he even wore a Star of David that he tapped to his chest.
“A friendship is colorblind. If it’s a friend, it’s a friend. It doesn’t matter what color he is or what religion he is.”
“When I got [to UMD], I was a big guy, strong and mentally defective when it came to this subject of [anti-Semitism],” he said. “I was going to fight. If you said anything that was anti-Semitic or anything that was racially motivated, it was going to be a fight.”
As it was the 1960s, anti-Semitism occurred on campus, though Hill and Fishman weren’t “fighting through a backend of anti-black or anti-Semitism, per se,” according to Hill.
“Nobody targeted Fishman any more than me,” said Hill. “If [people on campus] didn’t like Fishman, they weren’t in his face with it.”
During the first week on campus, there was a freshman teammate that a day or so earlier made incendiary comments about Jews that Fishman ignored. Coming out of practice, Fishman and Hill encountered this teammate sitting in Fishman’s two-seater sports car, wanting a ride.
“I said, ‘Hey, there’s no room,’ ” Fishman recalled telling the teammate. “There wouldn’t be room, and even if I had room, the guy was a bigot, and I didn’t want to associate with him.”
With the car’s top down, Fishman said this teammate stood up in a seat and walked down the back of the car. Stepping on the bumper, but before his foot hit the ground, Fishman butted him, knocking him down.
The teammate threw a punch in a fight that resulted in the teammate bloodied and his front teeth gone, according to Fishman.
“This guy was lying on the ground, still cussing away,” he said. “People came to say goodbye because it was such a brutal attack that they didn’t think I was going to stay in school.”
That did not end up happening, and the bloodied teammate, whom Fishman described as “the biggest bigot you’d ever want to meet,” never played again.
“I was facing this sort of thing wherever you went,” said Fishman. “Most guys would turn their back on it, but it was my nature not to. This is my nature, and this is what got me into a lot of problems, but that’s just the way it was.”
The team treated the beat-up teammate, including giving him new teeth.
Fishman’s habit of verbally and, sometimes physically, confronting bigotry was what years later his wife would call “The Fishman Defect.”
‘There was a lot of anti-Semitism poking around’
The team supported Hill who, like any transfer, sat out one year and played his first game on Sept. 21, 1963, at home versus North Carolina State; it resulted in a 36-14 loss.
Playing in the South consisted of encountering segregation and racism. The team would only stay at hotels and restaurants that would serve Hill.
Hill said that Fishman told him, “They don’t like me down there in the South any more than they like you.”
“And that was true,” said Hill. “There was a lot of anti-Semitism poking around. And you could feel it.”
On the road the following week, they played the University of South Carolina, which didn’t allow the UMD team to practice on their field with Hill. The players instead practiced a couple hours away at The Citadel.
The UMD squad was protected by the U.S. National Guard when it went onto the field.
Hill said the home fans were hostile, though the opposing players weren’t.
As UMD walked off the field after the game—UMD gave up 21 points in the second half after leading 13-0 by halftime that included a 13-yeard touchdown run by Hill—Fishman said a man in the stands poured a drink on Hill. Fishman grabbed the fan and yanked him out of the stands, took his “helmet by the facemask” and clubbed him across the head.
“I was mad at him,” said Hill. “We got to the locker room, and I said, ‘Man, are you crazy!’ ”
Hill said he didn’t approve of Fishman’s aggressive nature against the bigotry. He said that he mentioned to Fishman that because he himself was white, “if trouble started, the trouble was going to be directed at me, not him.”
However, Fishman “didn’t listen,” said Hill.
South Carolina won 21-13.
In the annual Tobacco Bowl on Oct. 5 in the Virginia state capital, Richmond, against Duke, anti-Semitic cheers and taunts happened throughout the entire game.
“Of course, the more they did it, the better he played,” said Hill, who added that Fishman knocked out the opposing quarterback.
“It was obvious we were being discriminated against.”
UMD lost 30-12. Their record was 0-3.
The following week, with UMD hosting the University of North Carolina—a game the Terrapins would go on to lose—a fraternity was heard in the stands saying, “Why we got this n***** and this Jew, and we [are] losing?”
“Some kind of way, that word got back to Fishman and he went down to the fraternity house and said, ‘Now, what you have to say?’ ” recalled Hill.
On Oct. 26, in a road win in the South against Wake Forest, Hill was knocked unconscious out of bounds by a late hit. Fishman applied the oxygen mask to Hill when medics refused to do so.
Fishman recalled the medics saying, “We’re not putting this mask on that n*****’s face.”
“So I just grabbed it and gave it to him,” he said. Fishman noted that the worst experiences he had were at the North Carolina school.
UMD finished with a 3-7 record season.
In the 1964 season, the team improved to a 5-5 record.
The day before its Oct. 10 game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Hill and other members of the team went to a drugstore’s lunch counter, which refused to serve Hill, saying that they don’t serve “n*****s.”
Fishman and the team got up and walked out, but not before Fishman slid his arm across the counter, knocking over plates and other items on it.
The team walked out without getting arrested.
“If trouble started, the trouble was going to be directed at me, not him.”
“I was just pissed off at that situation, and my nature was to react,” said Fishman. “I grew up in the north, and the racial discrimination wasn’t overt up in Connecticut like it was down here; it was an eye-opener. How can people do this, how can they get away with this, how does this happen?”
Duke won 24-17.
Four games later at home against Navy, Hill’s former team, Fishman caught the opposing team’s quarterback, future College Football and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, dancing on the sideline. In response, Fishman knocked Staubach out.
Fishman gave a brigade of Midshipmen, unhappy with what just happened to Staubach, the middle finger in response to anti-Semitic taunts. A picture of Fishman’s gesture went viral and appeared in news outlets, including in The Washington Post.
After that game, reportedly because of Fishman’s misconduct, Navy and UMD wouldn’t play each other over the next 40 years.
Playing at the University of Virginia on Nov. 21, Fishman knocked out the opposing team’s star quarterback. Hill remembered hearing chants from the stands, such as “Get the dirty Jew off the field!”
“Anti-Semitism in the South was alive and well,” said Hill.
‘A friendship is colorblind’
Hill and Fishman graduated together in 1965.
After a brief stint with the New York Jets, Hill, now 76, attended graduate school and had a business career, helping minorities in the business world. U.S. President Richard Nixon appointed Hill as co-chairman of the Minority Small Business Investment Company. Hill would then found W.H. Bone & Company, one of the first black-owned fine-dining restaurants in the United States.
In 2003, Hill became director of major gifts for the University of Maryland Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, a position he no longer holds.
“Growing up as a young businessman and where I am, several of my key mentors were Jewish businessmen who kind of took me under their wing and taught me things,” noted Hill.
One of those people was the late Joseph Danzansky, who served as president and then chairman of Giant Food Inc., and was chairman of the Greater Washington Business Center.
Hill founded a nonprofit, Kids Play USA Foundation, which helps children overcome financial hurdles associated with organized youth sports, including enrollment fees, travel, and equipment and uniform costs.
Fishman, also now 76, was drafted in the 14th round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), who waived him. He played for the Hartford Charter Oaks in the Continental Football League. In 1966, he was signed by the Washington Redskins, but didn’t make the roster.
Fishman married an Israeli woman and lived in Haifa from 1983 until the Second Lebanon War. Three of his children were born in the Jewish state. He practiced law and would travel between Israel and the United States. After the war broke out, Fishman and his family relocated to Boca Raton, Fla., where he is retired. Two of his kids live in Israel.
Hill, also married and a great-grandfather of seven, has never been to Israel. A film about his story, titled “Illegal Contact,” has been in the works, though its release is yet to be determined.
Speaking of Hill and others, Fishman said “a friendship is colorblind. If it’s a friend, it’s a friend. It doesn’t matter what color he is or what religion he is.”
Still, he added, “as far as we’ve come, I don’t think we’re as far as we should be in respecting other religions and colors,” he said. “We’re just not there.”
“Just a natural animosity that we have as humans toward people that are not like us, are not the same color or the same religion,” he continued. “It’s just ridiculous. What we should learn is that we’ve got to make it together or fall together.”
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