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Former Bears DB Curtis Gentry traversed unique path to NFL
To continue the Bears’ celebration of Black History Month, senior writer Larry Mayer discusses the life and career of former defensive back Curtis Gentry, who played professional baseball and basketball, served in the Army and was a civil rights activist in addition to playing professional football. Gentry is currently featured in an exhibit in the Halas Hall lobby celebrating Black History Month. 
By Larry Mayer Feb 22, 2024

Few NFL players have accomplished more in their first 30 years on the planet than former Bears defensive back Curtis Gentry.

Prior to being selected by the Bears in the 17th round of the 1966 draft out of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Gentry played professional baseball and basketball, served in the Army and was a civil rights activist.

Gentry, who passed away Oct. 29, 2022, at the age of 85, is featured in an exhibit in the Halas Hall lobby celebrating Black History Month. The display chronicles his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and his Bears career and includes quotes from him and others.

"It's an unbelievable story," said Bears historical archives assistant Claire Blakemore, who helped create the exhibit. "He did all of that before he was 30. And it was the '60s. It's the height of the Civil Rights Act, LBJ (President Lyndon Baines Johnson), Vietnam; so much going on. That he experienced all of that and lived such a life before he was 30 I thought was really inspiring."

Gentry grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. After graduating from Portsmouth High School in 1958, he enrolled at the Miami University (Ohio), where he played football and basketball. But Gentry dropped out and joined the Harlem Globe Satellites, a pro basketball team formed by former Harlem Globetrotter Rookie Brown.

Gentry later was signed by the Detroit Tigers and played for their Class D affiliate, the Commodores, ironically in Decatur, Ill., where the Bears were born in 1920 as the Decatur Staleys. In October 1960, Gentry was drafted into the army and served 22 months.

Gentry decided to return to college and resume his football career. He wrote letters to 14 Black colleges and the only reply he received came from Maryland Eastern Shore, which offered him a four-year scholarship without ever seeing him play.

Back home in Portsmouth during summer break in 1964—shortly after the Civil Rights Act had been passed—Gentry participated in a "wade in" at the Terrace Club's white-only Dreamland Pool, a sprawling three-acre complex that did not have to adhere to discrimination laws because it was privately owned.

After being refused entry, Gentry—along with three other adults and two juveniles—paid 60 cents, entered the facility and jumped into the pool. The group was arrested, but charges against them were dropped and their protest ultimately led to the desegregation of the Dreamland Pool in 1965.

Gentry also participated in demonstrations organized by a local chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to help integrate Maryland restaurants.

Gentry landed in Chicago in 1966 as a 29-year-old rookie and played his entire three-year NFL career with the Bears. He appeared in 38 games with 14 starts and registered six interceptions. His best season was in 1967 when he played in all 14 games with 13 starts and picked off four passes.

Gentry still shares a Bears record with five others for most interceptions in a game with three, a feat he accomplished Nov. 19, 1967, in a 30-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

After his playing career ended, Gentry served as head football coach at Alabama A&M (1976) and Lincoln (1980) and an assistant at Holy Cross (1972), Northwestern (1973-75) and North Carolina A&T (1977-79).

He later returned to the Chicago area in 1988, working at College of Lake County in Grayslake as a teacher and associate dean of athletics.

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