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Macon broke color barrier with Bears

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Eddie Macon and his wife, Jesse, celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2015 at a retirement community in California.

In honor of Black History Month, ChicagoBears.com is introducing you to African-American pioneers in Bears history.

A running back and return specialist, Eddie Macon played two seasons with the Bears after being selected in the second round of the 1952 NFL Draft out of Pacific.

Macon's brief stint with the Monsters of the Midway was fairly non-descript except for one significant distinction: He was the first African-American player in Bears history.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Macon back in November 2011 the night before a game in Oakland. A Bay Area resident, I invited him to the Bears hotel to meet then-coach Lovie Smith and several players, including Charles Tillman and Devin Hester.

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Eddie Macon played two seasons with the Bears before rejoining a former college coach in the CFL.

Mr. Macon, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next month, told me during our 2011 visit about his days with the Bears and about the discussions he had with founder and coach George Halas.

"He told me what he expected of me, and that was to come in and just be a football player and be a gentleman," said Macon, who currently lives with his wife of 71 years, Jesse, in a retirement community in Carlsbad, Calif.

Macon's arrival in 1952 didn't cause much of a stir. Jackie Robinson had broken baseball's color barrier five years earlier, and several African Americans had played in the NFL from 1920-33.

In 1949, the Bears had become the first NFL team to draft an African-American player when they chose halfback George Taliaferro out of Indiana. But he opted to sign with the Los Angeles Dons in the rival All-American Football Conference.

Macon felt that most fans, teammates and opponents accepted him, with one exception.

"I had no problems with the fans," Macon said. "The team that I really had problems with was the Detroit Lions. They beat me in the face, twisted my legs. When I got in a pile, I tried to come out of that pile because I knew what they were going to try to do."

Macon also faced discrimination off the field. When the Bears played preseason games in the south, black players were not welcome in the same hotels as their white teammates. As a result, he stayed with African-American families who lived in the area.

While Macon deplored the racism and didn't appreciate being separated from his teammates, he enjoyed meeting the families he stayed with, saying: "They did everything to make me feel comfortable."

In two seasons with the Bears, Macon averaged 30.5 yards on 22 kickoff returns and 5.9 yards on 24 punt returns while also rushing for 324 yards and two touchdowns on 70 carries and catching 14 passes for 49 yards and 2 TDs.

Macon smiled when I asked about the role he played in Bears history.

"There always has to be a pioneer," he said. "Someone has to be the first and I was the first and I feel very proud that I was the first."

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