Editor's Plate: Take Note Kaepernick - Stand Up to Better Ideas

Nov. 11, 2016
Hall of Famers Harris and Mitchell made life better for minorities by rescuing failing food companies.

If Colin Kaepernick really wants to make a difference, really wants to make America’s streets and lives better for black Americans, then he should emulate two football predecessors (and food entrepreneurs): Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell.

Kaepernick is the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has decided not to stand during the Star Spangled Banner at the start of each game. Instead, he kneels as a quiet protest of police brutality and social injustice.

Flash back to the 1970s and you have two other, far more gifted football players. Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell were teammates at Pennsylvania State University, both running backs. They were early drafts picks into the National Football League in 1972, Harris going to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mitchell to the Baltimore Colts. Both eventually set records for their teams and were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They remained friends and, when it was time to retire from the game, they put their heads and small (very small) fortunes together and bought failing food companies. I don’t think the deals were entirely philanthropic. In that day and age, even future Hall of Famers needed income after their football careers ended. I suspect Harris and Mitchell together made less during their entire careers than Kaepernick makes sitting the bench for one game. But they returned to the cities they loved and invested in troubled, inner-city food companies that employed mostly minorities.

Parks Sausage Co. was a legend in Baltimore. It was started in 1951 by Henry Parks, who as a black entrepreneur overcame many barriers to make his company a success. Parks Sausage became the largest minority-owned company in Baltimore and the first Black-owned company in the U.S. to go public. At one point, its single plant employed more than 200, almost all inner-city minorities. But in the 1990s, financial troubles set in and the firm slipped into bankruptcy.

Harris found a bakery in Pittsburgh with a less storied past and on better financial footing, but similarly in need of a cash infusion. Harris and Mitchell together bought the bakery, renaming it Super Bakery, and set out to grow the business with an emphasis on healthier baked goods – an idea ahead of its time. Then they bought Parks Sausage out of bankruptcy and kept the plant running.

The story of Parks, unfortunately, does not have the happiest ending. Harris and Mitchell improved its finances but never got it back on solid ground. But they engineered the sale of the plant in the late 1990s to Dietz & Watson, apparently losing lots of their own money but saving many Baltimore jobs.

Up in Pittsburgh, Super Bakery continues to pump out (among other products) the Super Donut, “fortified with minerals, vitamins and protein,” and using proprietary “NutriDough bakery fortifier.” It truly is a respectable and tasty donut. “It turns empty calories into nutrient fuel,” the company says, and as a result the donut is welcome in many schools and other subsidized foodservice programs. Super Bakery also creates shelf-stable meal kits for the military. Franco and Lydell still run the business.

Kaepernick, to his credit, has pledged part of his salary and part of the proceeds from sales of his jersey to charitable causes. But he can do more, he can really get involved.

I’m a big believer in freedom of speech and dialog on any issue. But I’m an even bigger fan of action. Kaepernick needs to do more than take a knee; he needs to move the ball forward.

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