The NFL’s Invisible Men 

For years, the sports world bitched and moaned about the NFL’s lack of black QBs. These days the argument is mostly concerning the NFL’s lack of black coaches or if the Rooney Rule still holds weight. But no one has ever called for an investigative probe into the hiring practices of black kickers and punters. And if there ever was a NFL position that was almost exclusive to race, it’s the kicker.

African Americans make up nearly 65 percent of NFL rosters. The league began in 1920. Yet only a handful of black players have kicked for a living: Horace Gillom, Greg Coleman, Reggie Roby, Donald Igwebuike, Rodney Williams, Danny Knight, Cedric Ogelsby, and Justin Medlock. To put it in perspective, Augusta National now has more women members than the NFL has black kickers. And there have been more white platinum rappers than notable NFL punters.

Most of them only had a cup of coffee in the league. A couple have distinguished themselves at times. But only one—punter Reggie Roby—can be considered an all-time great. 

Roby was the black Superman of NFL punters. In a 16-year career he was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection. The first decade was spent with the Miami Dolphins as an anomaly in the punting game. The Waterloo, Iowa native had a powerful, 243-pound linebacker's build. And he used it to leg out high, booming kicks that hovered over the Joe Robbie Stadium fans, seemingly suspending in time like Air Jordan about to stuff one from the foul line. He still holds the highest career playoff average of any Miami punter at 40.6 and his 77-yard punt against the Bills back in '87, is still the longest net punt in franchise history. 

"I remember him having one of the strongest legs in the history of the NFL," legendary Dolphins HC Don Shula said in a statement following Roby's sudden death at age 43 in 1995.

"Double R" was one of the few brothers that ever got props for kicking a football. In most locker rooms the kicker is one step up from the equipment manager, and that's if he is nice with his. Roby could hit the top of a dome stadium over 100 feet up; a true godsend for any special teams coach and defensive coordinator—and a problem for opposing punt returners.

There’s a young cat that plays for the Raiders, whose leg lift and skin color conjure memories of Roby — Marquette King. A Roby with more athleticism, he is the modern-day version of the NFL’s most memorable black punter. If Roby was compared to a '80s superhero icon, then King should be compared to a more up-to-date, super-powered persona.

"I feel like every punter and kicker comes with something different," King told, while battling veteran Chris Kluwe for the starting gig back in August. "We're all like X-men. You got Wolverine that fights with his claws, you got Cyclops that shoots fire with his eyes, and everybody brings something different."

Asked what his super power was, he said "Power. . . I can hit high and long punts."

Just call King “The Colossus” of kicking. With the big booming leg; his pregame exhibitions are compared to watching a young Darryl Strawberry take batting practice. His hang time has been clocked at a sick 5.5 seconds. But his biggest criticism is his inconsistency and lack of experience at the pro level. Still, he showed a veteran’s savvy against the Giants on Sunday. With New Jersey winds gusting violently, King still averaged 50.8 yards (37.3 net) on five kicks. He also had a punt blocked for a TD. But that happens, it's part of his growth process. 

Even the Giants' eight-year vet, Steve Weatherford, who is averaging 45.9 yards per punt, had a shaky day. After the game, he said the conditions were the worst he's ever faced. It was difficult to make any adjustments because the wind was so unpredictable.

If the Raiders allow King to stay, it will be fun watching him develop. King blasted a sweet 59-yarder that pinned the Giants inside the five-yard line on one of his deliveries. Those types of aerial displays are what keeps teams interested. His soulful celebrations—uncommon for a punter who usually takes the “seen but not heard route”—make him marketable.

Imagine that. A punter with major flavor and six-pack abs.

After that particular bomb, King pointed up at the sky, pumped his fists and was unusually animated for a punter. He was cutting up turf as if he just threw a 60-yard bomb for six. It was as if he considered himself a real athlete, which is rare in a punting culture, where throughout the years, Al Bundy guts and slow 40 dash times have become common features. Faceless characters in the game, they're only important when failing miserably or succeeding greatly. 

Sex appeal is definitely something the kicking position lacks. It’s unlikely King's blackness will influence African-American kids to abandon their dreams of being RG3 and become quasi-players and sitting ducks for special team meat-seekers on Sunday afternoons. The kids balling on the amateur level don’t yet know who this cat is. But from the looks of things, King is going to make sure people know his name before he’s out of the game. At the very least, he’ll be a YouTube celebrity for having the baddest two-step in punting history.

So while King carries on what little tradition black kickers have, TSL reflects on The Invincible Men of the NFL.  

Horace Albert "Big Horse" Gillom

Gillom was a punter and utility end on offense and defense in the All-American Football Conference and NFL. He broke in with the Cleveland Browns in 1947 and played 10 seasons for HC Paul Brown, who said there "has never been a better punter than Horace.” At 6-1, 225 pounds, he was brolic and his incredible leg strength contributed to the evolution of punting. Gillom stood further back from the center to give himself more room to make kicks. He was the first kicker to put the emphasis on hang time, giving the coverage team more time to truck it downfield and mash up a ball carrier. It redefined the standards and skill set that a kicker was judged by.

Gene Mingo

In the 1960s and '70s, multi-faceted Gene "Golden Toe" Mingo made a career of placekicking (while also playing halfback, kicker, and kickoff/punt returner) for five AFL and NFL teams. Though Gillom amassed 492 punts for a 43.8 average throughout his career, Mingo is recognized as the Jackie Robinson of kickers. Mingo scored the first points in Mile High Stadium—then called Bears Stadium—with an 18-yard field goal in the1961 season opener at War Memorial Stadium against the Buffalo Bills. He led the American Football League in scoring as a rookie in 1960 with 123 points and in 1962 with 137 points.

Greg Coleman

Coleman enjoyed a 12-year career in the NFL with Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington from 1977-1988. Coleman was faster than most punters and early in his career was a real threat to scramble for a first down on a fake punt. He was no freak show though, with the boot to match. And his technical execution made him a formidable NFL kicker. Coleman was anointed the moniker "Coffin Corner" because of his precision aiming his kicks near the corner of the playing field where the end zone and out-of-bounds lines meet.

Obed Ariri

Ariri played just 18 games for the Tampa Bay Bucs and Washington Redskins in 1984 and 1987, despite being a perfect 8 of 8 in field goals and converting 44 of 46 extra points. He faded into oblivion like most black kickers regardless of their level of success. 

Donald Igwebuike

Igwebuike is probably the most accomplished black place kicker of all-time. The Nigerian-born baller is fourth on the Tampa Bay Bucs all-time scoring list, ripping off 416 points from 1985-89 using a unique barefoot style. He also kicked for the Minnesota Vikings in 1990 before bouncing around the Arena Football League until 1995. Igwebuike was one of the most respected punters in the NFL when he played, completing 108 of 143 field goals for a solid 75.5 percent success rate. He also missed just seven of 160 point-after attempts.

Danny Kight

Kight played two seasons with the Colts (1999 and 2000) and one season with Baltimore in 2001, but he didn’t attempt any field goals. We heard he played a vicious water boy though.

Cedric Ogelsby

According to his website, Cedric is the first African American soccer style kicker to score points in the NFL. He is also the first NFL kicker from a Historical Black College & University (South Carolina State).

The 5-11, 175-pound Ogelsby has been signed by 3 NFL Teams and has been offered a contract or brought in for a workout by over half the teams in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys signed him in 2000. In 2001, he signed with the San Diego Chargers and was 3 of 3 on field goal attempts and kicked a game winner in overtime against the Miami Dolphins. Ogelsby then signed with the Arizona Cardinals and was 5 out of 6 on field goal attempts with a long of 41 and 7 of 7 on extra points. Despite showing mad skills, Ogelsby played just one season in the NFL and now he shares his experiences at The Cedric Oglesby Kicking Academy, a professional training center for future NCAA and NFL athletes geared toward punting, kicking, and football techniques.

Justin Medlock

He’s just one of two African-Americans in the past decade to have placekicking stints in the NFL. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, out of UCLA. Medlock has bounced around to six NFL teams and five CFL teams. His last squad was the Raiders in 2013, but he was an offseason and practice squad member only. He’s currently waiting for a phone call to get a kicking gig, and for some reason, he has only gotten the opportunity to kick field goals for two teams. His 8 of 12 career field goals are a small sample size for a guy that’s been on NFL radars for almost a decade. As a Chiefs rookie, Medlock was 1-2 on field goal attempts with a long of just 27. In 2012, he had his best season with Carolina, converting 7 of 10 field goal attempts and 23 of 23 extra points.

If we want to pad the stats, add former all-pro wide receiver Chad Ochocinco to the list as well. The multi-talented, often-tormented Cincinnati Bengals star was perfect in his only extra point attempt and blasted a kickoff in a game against the Patriots in 2009. 


JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.