February is the month in which Black History is celebrated and although the African-American community doesn’t need a particular month to celebrate and remember its history, since we celebrate our history everyday, February still represents a great time to reflect. When it comes to reflection of African-American history, you have to recognize American Football League Hall of Famer and World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer, the late Ernie Ladd.
When it comes to Ladd, you’re talking about someone who was the only man to be elected to both the American Football League Hall of Fame and the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. He represents what people want in professional athlete, mainly because when he was on the field or in the ring, he gave his all and accomplished every goal that he set, then when he wasn’t in the ring or on the field, he was working hard to accomplish his other life goals while being a leader to young people and a good husband, father and brother to his wife, children and siblings.
Now for those who don’t know anything about Ladd, let me enlighten you. Ladd was born in Rayville, Louisiana and raised in Orange, Texas. In high school, he was both a football and basketball which earned him a basketball scholarship to Grambling State University. However, despite earning a basketball scholarship, it would be on the football field that he attract professional football scouts which led to his professional football career.
In the years before the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, Ladd played 112 consecutive games in the AFL. Now he spent the majority of his professional football career were with the San Diego Chargers but he also played for the Houston Oilers and the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring at the age of 28 and becoming a professional wrestler.
Now before leaving the AFL, Ladd certainly made a name for himself on the field. At 6-foot-9 and 315 pounds, he was considered to be the biggest and strongest man in professional football at least during his era. During his time in the AFL, he also played in three AFL championship games, helping the Chargers to win the American Football League title in 1963. Ladd also earned the honor of being American Football League All-Star from 1962 through 1965 but he didn’t let that stop him from being one of the AFL players that organized a walkout on the 1965 AFL All-Star Game due to the racism they experienced in New Orleans.
Now some would have think that once he retired from the AFL, he would sit back and relax but no such thing as Ladd would take on another amazing goal, that goal being a professional wrestler.
Believe it or not, Ladd was just as a big of force in the ring as he was on the field. Ladd started wrestling in 1961 and after a successful run as a fan favorite, he would become one of wrestling’s most hated heels during the 1970s, as well as one of the first African-American wrestlers to portray a heel character. However, he most well-known for his feuds with some of the most popular wrestlers of the time, including André the Giant, Mr. Wrestling and Wahoo McDaniel. He unfortunately had to retire from wrestling in 1986, due to the bad knees that forced him to stop and to use a wheelchair most of the time but he will forever be remembered by wrestling fans all over the world, just like he is known all over the world by various football fans.
After retiring from professional wrestling, Ladd was known for being mentor and spokesperson in the community, speaking at churches and prisons, while continuing to be a dedicated family man. Between 2003 and 2004, he was diagnosed with colon cancer in which his doctor told him that he had three to six months to live, Ladd would beast those odds but would ultimately die in his home in Franklin, Louisiana at the age of 68.
He is survived by his wife, Roslyn; three sons, Ernie, Rodney and Reginald; a daughter, Erika Peters; 16 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; two sisters; and a brother.
However, the fact remains that while he may be gone, his spirit and legacy lives on, as the only man elected to both the American Football League Hall of Fame and the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame and a dedicated family man and leader in his community. So next time you remembering great African-American athletes, remember the late Ernie Ladd.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit