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Dr. Prentice Gautt Obituary

First black OU player dies at 67

By Bob Hersom
The Oklahoman

Dr. Prentice Gautt, whose distinguished career included being the first black football player at the University of Oklahoma, died Thursday morning after a brief illness. Gautt's strides reached beyond football field.

Gautt, 67, died in Lawrence, Kan., after being hospitalized Monday with flu-like symptoms, his wife, Sandra, told The Associated Press. He was a special assistant to the Big 12 Conference commissioner.

"Prentice Gautt was truly a great person," OU President David Boren said in a statement, "and he will be remembered as one of the most outstanding graduates in the history of the University of Oklahoma."

A native of Oklahoma City and a graduate of Douglass High School, Gautt joined the OU football team in 1956 and went on to twice earn All-Big Eight recognition. He was an Academic All-American in 1958 and the MVP of the 1959 Orange Bowl.

Gautt went on to earn master's and doctorate degrees in psychology. The Dr. Prentice Gautt Academic Center for OU student-athletes was opened in 1999.

"We are very proud that the academic center at the athletics department of the University of Oklahoma bears his name," Boren said. "I will never forget the day that he stood on the 50-yard line of Owen Field and received the longest ovation I have ever witnessed in the stadium when it was announced that the academic center would be named for him."

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said the halftime ovation for Gautt was deafening.

"And it went on and on," Castiglione said. "All of us were standing there, and the tears were running down our cheeks. I get kind of choked up thinking about it."

OU was segregated until 1950, and final restrictions on undergraduate enrollment were not dropped until May 1955. OU football coach Bud Wilkinson was pressured against giving Gautt a football scholarship in 1956.

So, a group of black doctors and pharmacists arranged to pay Gautt's tuition at OU. But within a year, Gautt was given an OU scholarship and the donated money was given to another black student.

"His moral courage helped to bring racial justice, not only to our state and to intercollegiate athletics, but also to our entire nation," Boren said. "His deep religious faith and quiet dignity, as well as his commitment to academic excellence, make him a worthy role model for the generations which will follow him. The entire university family extends our love and sympathy to his family."

As the first black football player at OU, Gautt was the victim of prejudice. Sometimes, restaurants would not serve him. Sometimes, hotels would not give him a room.

"He went through a lot of tough times, but he was bigger than all of them," former OU teammate Joe Rector said. "God put him in the right place. He was a great person."

Former OU football coach Barry Switzer, a champion of black athletes, said he admired Gautt.

"Prentice was a class act. None better. None better," Switzer said. "It was neat knowing him. I'm glad I got to know him."

One time when the OU team traveled to Tulsa, a restaurant refused to feed Gautt because he was black. So the entire team left the restaurant.

"Certainly, anyone less of a gentleman than Prentice and anyone with less fortitude would have not allowed the black man to have a chance at Oklahoma," said former OU teammate Brewster Hobby. "He was the one to lead it off, and he certainly set the right kind of example for all of us to follow."

When Gautt played at OU, the first- and second-team players at each position were roommates on road trips. Gautt's roommate for two years was Jakie Sandefer.

"Prentice asked me to introduce him into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, and I was very honored that he asked me to induct him," Sandefer said. "My statement there was, 'Was Prentice different? Yeah, Prentice was different. He had more class than the rest of us, and he was a better student.'"

Jimmy Harris was an OU senior when Gautt was a freshman and a Sooners assistant when Gautt was a junior.

"If you had a team of Prentice Gautts, you'd have a winner all the way," Harris said. "He was just extraordinary. He was like a sponge, absorbing not just football but culture and living in this world."

He was a mentor for Castiglione.

"When Prentice spoke, everyone listened. And you would look around the room and see everyone nodding their heads. They knew this guy had it figured out," Castiglione said.

Gautt not only transcended race on the football field; he transcended Bedlam and the OU-Oklahoma State University.

"He was a gentleman, an absolute consummate professional," said Steve Buzzard, OSU associate athletic director. "When you look at role models around this part of the country - from what he did on the field to what he did in his professional life, to the family guy he was - I don't know if you could find anyone better."

Sandefer said it was no accident that Gautt was the first black football player on scholarship at OU.

"Coach Wilkinson knew his character, or he wouldn't have been there."

Gautt is survived by his wife, Sandra, of Lawrence, Kan.; son, Roger, of Houston, Texas; and sister, Loretta Davis. Gautt was preceded in death by son, Rory, and two brothers.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Published in The Oklahoman on Mar. 18, 2005
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