“Through the Banks of the Red Cedar ” is a film about the first fully integrated college football team in America. Big Ten Network will air the award-winning film that highlights Michigan State University head football coach Duffy Daugherty ’s innovative recruitment strategy: scouting the best Black football talent from the Jim Crow South to build a powerhouse football program that looked demographically closer to the teams we see on the field today than any other historically white institution in the 1960s. It was an unprecedented move that changed the sport of football and opened doors for athletes of all ethnic backgrounds today.
With the support of Michigan State president John A. Hannah, Duffy Daugherty used segregation to his advantage in what sports writers have deemed the Underground Railroad of college football from the 1940s-1960s. It was a game-changing approach to recruiting that paid off for the Spartans at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. The 1965 Spartans made an appearance in the Rose Bowl after an undefeated season, and the undefeated 1966 team played in the ‘game of the century’ against Notre Dame, which famously ended in a 10-10 tie. Daugherty’s Spartans won back-to-back Big Ten titles and were named national champions two years in a row.
“Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” was truly a passion project for filmmaker Maya Washington. Her father, former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Gene Washington, was recruited from La Porte, Texas, to play football for the Spartans on a track scholarship in 1963. Gene played alongside fellow College Football Hall of Famers Bubba Smith, George Webster and Clinton Jones on the highly decorated 1965 and 1966 MSU football teams. They made history when all four Spartans were drafted in the first-round, within the top eight picks, in the 1967 draft.
“Making this film was not only an opportunity to illuminate the struggles that Black athletes in America faced in the ‘60s, it was also a journey to better appreciate the sacrifices my dad and so many others made for the sport. Anything Black athletes have achieved today is on the shoulders of the early pioneers from my dad's generation and before,” said Maya Washington. “The impact that my father and his teammates had at Michigan State, and later with the Vikings, still lives on today.”
“The Michigan State football teams of the 1960s brought together individuals from different races to win national championships. It’s something we take for granted today, but it was a groundbreaking strategy that has permanently changed college football,” said MSU athletic director Bill Beekman. “We’ve shown ‘Through the Banks of the Red Cedar’ to our team and used it to launch important discussions about race, both in sports and beyond. I’d encourage all football fans to watch this important film, not only to learn about our important history and the men who took a risk to change football, but also to spark further thought about race in America today.” The award-winning film has been making its way through the festival circuit, first premiering at the Detroit Free Press Freep Film Festival, and it has been a go-to for universities and scholarly communities since 2018 as a catalyst for intergenerational conversations about race and sports. The Big Ten Network broadcast premiere of this film comes at a time when families in America are looking for ways to think deeply about racial justice and consider how what happened 50 years ago is still relevant today.
“The Big Ten Network is honored to present the broadcast premiere of ‘Through the Banks of the Red Cedar,’” said Bill Friedman, senior coordinating producer of B1G Network Originals. “The story of Gene Washington and his trailblazing Michigan State teammates in the mid-1960’s is inspiring, and one that all fans of Big Ten football should know and appreciate. Their courage and unbreakable bond changed both the sport and society.”
Big Ten Network will debut “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” at 8 p.m. EST on Nov. 10. The network plans to air the film two more times before the end of 2020.