NORMAN — Rod Shoate's family spent Tuesday celebrating some wonderful, long-overdue news: The three-time All-America linebacker from Oklahoma was finally elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“We've all wanted him to be recognized for all the good he did, regardless of everything that happened in his later years,” said Charlotte Gordon, Shoate's older sister. “We're very excited. The only downfall is that he's not here to rejoice in this recognition.”
Over the past 12 years, Shoate's loved ones have tried to focus on the positives — like his two Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year awards, Oklahoma's 1974 national championship and his remarkable role in breaking down racial barriers at Spiro High School — rather than the demons that cost him his life Oct. 4, 1999, at the age of 46.
Shoate will become the 20th OU player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at a Dec. 10 awards dinner in New York. Former OU defensive back Randy Hughes and linebacker Brian Bosworth were each listed on the 2013 ballot, but weren't elected.
Contacted by telephone after Tuesday's announcement, Gerald Blankenship, Shoate's high school coach, reflected on Shoate's tremendous talent, but also spoke of his unique ability to ease tensions that still existed as public schools adapted to racial desegregation.
A freshman in 1967, Shoate wasn't part of Spiro's varsity team when 13 black players abruptly quit midway through the season. The next year, though, after those players rejoined the team, the situation improved drastically. Blankenship gives Shoate lots of the credit for that.
“He helped get them back together,” Blankenship said. “Rod was good with those individuals.”
Myron Shoate, two years younger than Rod, always idolized his big brother, even following in his footsteps as an Oklahoma football player. He said Rod related well to both sides, convincing black Spiro students to play football while helping white students get past their prejudices.
“Rod was kind of the go-between,” Myron Shoate said. “He got along with the coaches and teachers very well. People respected him and he respected people.