In 1969, James Owens, uncle of Auburn defensive end LaDarius Owens, became Auburn’s first black football player. These days he’s not struggling with issues related to race but to his health—specifically his heart. He needs a new one. He was recently taken off the transplant waiting list due to his other medical conditions, including neuropathy and diabetes, which would seem to preclude his receiving a new organ. But he’s not giving up hope. Auburn won’t let him.
On Saturday, Owens will become the first recipient of Auburn’s new James Owens Courage Award. To receive your own courage award named after you and your courage takes a special kind of courage. Like fellow Amazin’ Lee Carpenter, who leads a wonderful life with Lou Gherig’s disease, Big O has it spades.
Here’s Owens scoring his first touchdown, the first ever by black Auburn player.
Here’s a story written about him the spring before Auburn’s legendary 1972 season.
And here are some rare photos of Owens in his athletic prime.
Photos: AU Archives.