Jackie Walker's Trailblazer Statue

Jackie Walker's Statue in front of Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Marshall Walker was present at the unveiling of four statues honoring historic Tennessee trailblazers in front of Neyland Stadium on Sept. 2, 2021.

Walker, a retired football coach, was speaking on behalf of his brother — one of the four being honored by the university.

"I want to first say that I'm honored to be able to represent the Walker family when Jackie's statue gets unveiled," Walker said. "I believe Jackie would feel it's a tremendous honor to have a statue on the University of Tennessee campus. None of us ever expected this. I'm ecstatic, proud and happy that (Tennessee athletic director Danny White) and the rest of the UT staff and coaches saw this as important and found a way to honor these historic University of Tennessee athletes."

Jackie Walker was a linebacker for the Vols from 1969-1971. Walker redefined the linebacker position at Tennessee, posting 268 tackles and 6 forced fumbles in two seasons — excluding his 1969 season, where stats were unavailable. Walker had a hand in Tennessee’s first two bowl victories under revered head coach Bill Battle.

Walker serves as a role model in other ways, though. He was the first Black All-American in SEC history, as well as the first Black captain in any sport for the conference.

Walker was also part of the LGBTQ community, in a time where persecution for one’s sexual preference was at an all-time high in the United States. Walker didn’t talk about his sexuality around his teammates.

Rumors spread around campus in his senior season and eventually Battle and other teammates were made aware. It was not a good time for Walker mentally. According to Marshall, he believed people would see him as something different than what he was — a dominant, talented football player that just wanted to win.

Walker went to Fulton High School, only 10 minutes away from Neyland Stadium. He was small for a linebacker, standing at just 6 feet tall and less than 200 pounds.

In 1967, Walker posted the highlight of the season, stuffing an Oak Ridge High School player with a massive hit on third down. The play, later dubbed simply “The Hit,” cemented a 14-13 win for the Falcons and is now considered one of the most famous in Fulton football history. The Falcons finished that season undefeated, a first for the eventual Knoxville prep powerhouse.

Despite his impressive accolades, Walker is not currently a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Walker passed away in 2002 as one of the most revolutionary athletes in SEC history, but many have never even heard his name.

Marshall has an idea as to why that is.

“It’s because of his sexual orientation,” his brother said.

Like Marshall, many argue that breaking two major barriers, be it through race or sexual orientation or both, should be enough to enshrine Walker in college football history. Walker was also cut before the NFL season after being selected in the sixth round in the 1972 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, which Walker himself attributed to the team discovering his sexual orientation.

“I’ve never nominated anybody, but Jackie Walker is certainly worthy in my eyes, and I don’t have a clue why he hasn’t been included,” former Vols football color analyst Tim Priest said of Walker in 2007. “He’s qualified for the National Football Hall of Fame, too. I’ll tell you this — his name will be put in nomination. It’s time.”

In his final days, his brother promised Walker that he would work to make sure Walker got the recognition that he deserved. With the help of Priest, Walker was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

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