Laurence Simmons, recognized by the Louisville Cardinals as the program’s first African-American football player, passed away in a house fire yesterday afternoon.
He was 79.
Local investigators are presuming the fire began earlier on Saturday morning when an extension cord running under a door — and leading to a space heater — became frayed and started an electrical fire. A formal investigation into the cause of the fire is still pending. Simmons lived in in a basement bedroom of a house in Louisville which he shared with six other tenants according to local fire investigators.
Simmons played football in 1952 for Louisville. During that season he was an offensive lineman that was essential in helping the team to several key victories as they finished 3-5 overall playing mostly regional opponents. Simmons spent most of his professional career teaching at Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville — from which he eventually retired.
Two years after Simmons played at Louisville, the program integrated with another local school, Louisville Municipal College, integrating more African-American student-athletes and regular students onto the Louisville campus.
It’s always interesting to hear about players that broke color barriers at different schools, and in large part, how often they are forgotten once their playing days are done and their acts no longer have the historical impact they did as the time at which they happened.
There are plenty of guys like Laurence Simmons that created new opportunity for student at their individual institutions, but so often we never hear of what they did in their lives until their lives come to an end.
In a way, it’s a sign of the times.