*Courtesy of Little League International *
From Muscle Shoals, Ala., to Canton, Ohio, Ozzie Newsome has always appreciated his success, yet is modestly humble about his accomplishments. On Aug. 21, at the 62nd Little League Baseball World Series, the Pro Football Hall of Famer was honored by Little League International with his is enshrinement into the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum Hall of Excellence.
Newsome is considered one of the top executives in the NFL and was the architect of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV Championship team in 2000.
"Little League created a foundation for me," Newsome, a former NFL Executive of the Year and one of the elite tight ends in league history, said. "My first steps toward understanding teamwork and accountability came in Little League. When you look at our nation we work as a team. Playing Little League helped me become an unselfish player and taught me to take the responsibility to be the very best I could be."
Following his retirement as a player in 1990, Newsome joined the Cleveland Browns' front office. Moving with the franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, Newsome held several player personnel positions with the Ravens, including director of player personnel. In 2002, former Ravens' owner Art Modell promoted Newsome to General Manager, making him the first African American to hold that position in NFL history. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1999.
Growing up in Alabama during the 1960s, the social climate did not allow Mr. Newsome the opportunity to participate in organized youth sports until he was a teenager. When he did get a chance to play, a Senior Little League team in Muscle Shoals was the first he joined.
"When I was 14, desegregation allowed African-Americans to play in Little League," Mr. Newsome, an all-star catcher in his first Little League season, said. "I can remember at my first practice, the coach asked me, 'What position can you play?' Basically, I thought I could play them all.
"All the coaches where white, and that's when I realized just how segregated Alabama was," Newsome said. "Still, things were beginning to change. African Americans could now compete directly with everyone else, and I started to develop diversity with those relationships. The playing field became level because the coaches wanted the best players to play, and that was the first time had* I had *experienced that balance."
Attending the University of Alabama, Newsome played for legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. During his four-year collegiate career, the 1994 College Hall of Fame inductee helped his team win three Southeastern Conference championships. He was team captain in his senior year, and following his senior season was voted SEC Lineman of the Year and received All-America recognition.
In 1978, Newsome was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the player-entry draft. During a 13-year NFL career, highlighted by three Pro Bowl selections (1981, 84-85), he became the league's premier tight end. With 662 career receptions and nearly 8,000 yards receiving, Newsome concluded his career as the fourth-leading receiver in league history.
Newsome, 52, played in the Muscle Shoals Little League Association for two seasons. In his second year of Senior League, his all-star team advanced to the regional tournament in Georgia after winning the Alabama state title and the sectional championship tournament in Tennessee.
The Alabama state champions failed to win the regional tournament, but Newsome still has fond memories of what those days were like, and how the exposure helped him in his eventual decision to attend the University of Alabama.
"I was a gym rat as a kid, but I always had my parents blessing," Newsome, who graduated from Alabama with a degree in recreation administration, said. "Sports played a big part in breaking down racial barriers, and I saw that happening. Little League created a social outing for my family, and it was a great opportunity to get involved.
"The first time I got my own Little League uniform was unbelievable," Newsome said. "In Little League, I learned what it was to be a part of the team, and what it meant to sacrifice what you wanted to do for what was best for the team. Everything in life has disciplines and I learned discipline in Little League."
Newsome was a three-year varsity athlete at Colbert County High School in Leighton, Ala. Believing that baseball or basketball was his calling, he did not expect to play more than one year of high school football. In fact, as a junior on high school, Newsome's Colbert County team won a state baseball championship.
"When I signed to attend Alabama and play for Coach Bryant, the baseball coach asked if I was going to go out for baseball," Newsome said. "When I found success catching passes, and the old demon of not waiting on the curveball pushed me to football, any aspirations of playing college baseball went away."
Established in 1988, enshrinement in the Little League Museum's Hall of Excellence is conducted annually for a Little League graduate (or graduates) who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in their chosen profession and exemplify the values learned as children in Little League Baseball or Softball. Enshrinees are selected through a defined voting system by the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum Advisory Board.
Mr. McGovern saw the need for a physical structure to tell the story of Little League. To that end, he spearheaded the development of the Little League Museum. Opened during the 1982 Little League World Series, the museum is located on the Little League International complex. It was renamed in Mr. McGovern's honor upon his retirement in 1983.
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world's largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.7 million players and one million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries.