ON THIS DATE in 1965, eighteen-year-old Nat Northington (above) committed to attend the University of Kentucky, becoming the first African American football player signed to play in the Southeastern Conference.
One week later, Kentucky signed a second African American player, Greg Page. Northington and Page became best friends and anticipated breaking the SEC color barrier together in a September 30, 1967, game against the University of Mississippi.
A 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive end, Page was described by a teammate as “one of the most gentle giants you would ever want to meet.” During a pileup in a routine practice drill, Page went down and failed to get up. Paralyzed from the nose down, he died the day before the Kentucky-Ole Miss game.
Northington became the first African American to appear in an SEC football game the next day, but the death of his friend made him miserable. Within weeks, Northington left the Kentucky campus in what Sports Illustrated described as “a fog of distress and loneliness.” The wide receiver and defensive back later played at Western Kentucky University.