When two black teenagers came to the University of Kentucky to play football 50 years ago, they could not have imagined the tragedy awaiting them. Greg Page of Middlesboro and Nate Northington of Louisville were joined the next year by black teammates Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg.
In September 1967 Northington became the first black player to compete in a Southeastern Conference football game — the day after Page had died from a paralyzing injury suffered in a freak collision in a drill the month before.
Alone in the dorm room he had shared with Page, surrounded by his friend’s belongings and injured himself, Northington was devastated. Instead of offering sympathy when he stopped going to class, his coaches said they would take away his meal ticket as punishment. Northington left UK, played on Western Kentucky University’s 1970 Ohio Valley Conference championship team and built a successful career in his hometown.
The new statue of the four pioneers, outside Commonwealth Stadium, is a monument to courage and hope. The SEC was a bastion of segregation. Now, as Northington said, “We made Saturday the most racially diverse day of the week. And all that, it started here.”