Jackie Walker was an All-American linebacker for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1970 and '71. His teammates elected him captain for the '71 season, making him the first African-American to lead an SEC team. Walker still shares the N.C.A.A. title for the most number of career interceptions converted into touchdowns (5).
Despite his successful college football career, Walker was never inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. His brother, Marshall, his teammates and coaches believe that he was withheld from the honor because of his sexuality. Walker was openly gay and never hid his sexual identity.
After college, Walker was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, but was later cut before the season began. Although not substantiated, Marshall Walker and others believe that Jackie's sexuality played a role in the decision.
The story of Walker's deafened legend was made audible by a story written by Betty Bean for Metro Plus magazine. Bean asked the question of whether Walker's sexuality was the reason why he was never inducted into the Hall of Fame. She discovered that Walker's name was still legendary in the Knoxville area and that there was much support from previous teammates and coaches for his induction.
"[Walker] should have been inducted long before I was,” Lon Herzbrun, who coached Walker at Fulton High School and in college told Bean. “He didn’t do any of the things some of the guys today do — no drugs, none of that,” he said. “He was just the most accomplished player I’ve ever been around.”
The resurrection of Walker's historic career prompted a move from the Hall of Fame to induct Walker in the summer of 2008. The honor comes six years after Walker's death from AIDS complications in 2002.