Growing up in a segregated Alabama, Ralph Stokes never imagined he would play for the University of Alabama. But when his all-black high school closed down, he found himself in a predominantly white school, facing challenges of integration. Through perseverance, teamwork, and respect, Ralph became a trailblazing athlete, carving out a path for future generations. This episode explores the lessons learned from Ralph’s journey and how his experiences prepared him for life beyond football. Join us as we delve into the unexpected twists and turns of Ralph’s story and discover how he transformed adversity into opportunity.
This episode is sponsored by:
In this episode you’ll be able to:
- Discover valuable lessons from a pioneering football player’s journey
- Understand the crucial role of respect in fostering successful team dynamics
- Learn how to rise above discrimination and setbacks through respectful dialogue
- Uncover how to apply football-derived strategies to excel in business and entrepreneurship
- Gain insight into effective goal setting and teamwork inspired by collegiate athletics
00:03:12 – Ralph Stokes’ Career,
Ralph Stokes talks about his current role as Vice President of Diversity Partnerships and Community Relations at the PGA Tour Tour Superstore, and his upcoming role as President of the Georgia State Golf Association.
00:06:16 – Ralph Stokes’ Experience with Integration,
Ralph Stokes shares his experience with integration, starting from when he had to move to a different high school after his all-black high school was shut down, to playing football at a predominantly white school and leading integration his way.
00:11:15 – Football at Robert E. Lee High School,
Ralph Stokes talks about his first day at Robert E. Lee High School, where he and other black players were outnumbered by white players and faced a giant Confederate flag in the gym. He shares how they were able to bring the team together and succeed in football.
00:15:28 – The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion,
Ralph Stokes emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion, and how it benefits everyone, whether it’s in sports, business, or society. He shares his hope for a better future where people are judged by their character, not their skin color.
00:16:50 – Learning Respect for Each Other,
Ralph Stokes shares a story about how he learned respect for his white teammates during his high school football career. He explains how this respect helped them build a strong team and emphasizes the importance of respect in any organization.
00:19:07 – Ralph’s College Recruitment,
Ralph talks about his college recruitment process and the numerous scholarship offers he received from various schools, including Notre Dame, Southern Cal, and Alabama. He explains how he never wanted to play for Alabama due to their lack of black players and how his mother influenced his decision-making process.
00:25:13 – Meeting Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant,
Ralph’s mother initially refused to let him play for Alabama due to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s racist remarks. However, Coach Bryant went to Montgomery to meet Ralph’s family and apologize for his statements. Ralph’s mother asked tough questions, but ultimately allowed Ralph to play for Alabama.
00:32:27 – Coach Bryant’s Promise,
Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant promised Ralph and his family that he would treat Ralph fairly and be like a father to him while he was away at college. Ralph emphasizes the importance of having someone to look up to and how Coach Bryant fulfilled his promise to him.
00:34:39 – Priorities Beyond Football,
Ralph Stokes shares how his mother’s priority wasn’t just about football, but about her son’s future. She asked legitimate questions and allowed Coach Paul Bear Bryant to answer. They found common ground with respect and had a conversation.
00:36:51 – Coach Bryant’s Response,
Coach Bryant responded positively to every issue that addressed the four questions Ralph Stokes had. He was an outstanding coach, but an even greater man.
00:39:46 – Business School,
Ralph Stokes wanted to go to business school but was denied. He insisted he wanted to go, and they told him he had to talk to Coach Bryant. Coach Bryant allowed him to go to business school after listening to his reasons. Stokes graduated in four years and later served on the board of directors and was honored as one of the outstanding alums.
00:44:23 – Blessed with a Brain,
Ralph Stokes felt blessed to have a brain and wanted to challenge himself to use it to do the best he could. His mother instilled the importance of education, and he and his siblings were driven by a set of parents that valued education.
00:48:16 – Responsibility of Results,
Ralph Stokes talks about the importance of taking responsibility for the results of your actions. He uses golf and the stock market as examples of places where results are based on actions and not discrimination. His mom instilled the value of education, which she believed was the road to their future.
00:50:49 – Background and Decision Making,
Ralph Stokes talks about his decision not to accept the scholarship offered to him by legendary coach Paul Bear Bryant and his reasons for taking a break from school. He also talks about his friends’ decisions to go to law school and play football.
00:52:49 – Paul Bear Bryant’s Legacy,
Ralph shares his memories of the day of Paul Bear Bryant’s passing, the huge impact the coach had on the state of Alabama and the outpouring of support from former players and fans. He also talks about attending Bryant’s funeral.
00:54:11 – The Procession,
Ralph describes the procession from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham for Paul Bear Bryant’s burial. He talks about the incredible turnout of people and how it felt like the passing of a president.
00:55:30 – Future Episodes,
Gary asks Ralph to come back for future episodes to talk about his business life and college football. Ralph agrees and teases stories about his experiences in insurance sales and presenting to the Klu Klux Klan.
00:56:38 – Closing Remarks,
Gary and Ralph thank each other for the conversation and Ralph expresses his gratitude for the opportunity to share his story. They look forward to future episodes together.
Ralph Stokes, a former University of Alabama running back who made history as part of the first black recruiting class. His incredible personal journey serves as a testament to the power of determination, integrity, and the unwavering drive to succeed against all odds. From his early days playing football at Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery, Alabama, to joining the historically white Robert E. Lee High School, Ralph’s story showcases the lessons learned on and off the field that continue to inspire countless others. As a respected executive in the golf industry, Ralph demonstrates that with resilience and dedication, anything is possible.
Check out Ralph Stokes’ book One of the First and consider sharing it with others.