A familiar name is part of a new college football trophy game coming this weekend to the Big House
College football history is being made this coming weekend as the first George Jewett Trophy is being played for in Ann Arbor at Michigan Stadium.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Michael Jewett, whose great grandfather the trophy is named in honor of.
Lisa Barry: George Henry Jewett the Second was an athlete who became the first African-American football player at both the University of Michigan and Northwestern University in the Big Ten conference, then went on to become a medical doctor. I'm Lisa Barry, and that name may sound familiar because he's the great grandfather of WEMU's own Michael Jewett, who joins us now on 89 one WEMU for this conversation. Hi, Michael.
Michael Jewett: Well, hello. It's interesting to speak to you in a much different context.
Lisa Barry: That's right, I'm in charge now, so..
Michael Jewett: I always think that you're in charge.
Lisa Barry: Oh, do you? OK, yeah. Well, many people listening right now may recall the announcement not too long ago that a new football trophy has been established and will be played for this coming weekend in Michigan Stadium by both teams. And you and your family are going to be there for this historic moment.
Michael Jewett: It's really happening. Like every little step in this process makes it more real or whatever. When they announce the game time, it's like, "Oh, it's they're really having a game kick off at noon." Well, you know what? And in years from now, they're just it's just going to be called the Jewett game or Jewett Trophy game or the I don't know what. You know, it could develop its own folklore and everything.
Lisa Barry: Oh.
Michael Jewett: I guess it's the inaugural George Jewett Trophy game between the U of M and Northwestern. And, you know, first and foremost, you know, I guess I'm speaking on behalf of the family just acknowledging the efforts of the, you know, athletic departments and whatnot, everyone involved in establishing this. It's a lot of emotions and a lot of reaction to this. But, yes, it's a big deal. It's a big deal.
Lisa Barry: I wondered if you're going to allow yourself to feel the emotion and the impact of this historic moment.
Michael Jewett: Oh well. Lisa. I will, you know, I can tell you and I are colleagues and friends, I will tell you and everybody listening that I've been a basically a mess since they've announced this. A good mess. It's a good mess, you know, but a mess nonetheless, because it is so many, so many emotions, you know? And it's, you know, it's overwhelming. It's exciting. I will admit to this being more than a bit bittersweet on a lot of different levels. So, yeah, so there's a mix of, you know, very grateful. You know, and it's also, like, the excitement, you know, when I talked to my cousins or friends and whatnot, you know, it's just it's, like, it's the Jewett Trophy. They were a trophy. So I've had this conversation with a lot of people. So yeah, it's it's pretty, pretty special.
Lisa Barry: So, the announcement was made last February. How did you hear about it?
Michael Jewett: It was a really magical moment. So, I get a couple of emails from the U of M Athletic Department like, what do they talk of? It was like, "Why are they talking to me?" And I finally get a phone call and they let me know, "Well, we want to do a trophy, a George Jewettt Trophy." And I was in disbelief. You know, it's like, "You want to do what?" You know, it's like football trophies are kind of rare. They're not like that, like, there's a lot of them. And I get the details on it, and I'm just I was stunned. You know, I've never had an experience like this. I was just stunned. I'm like, so I get the call at my desk, and I walk to our front office. Molly Motherwell, who, you know, our GM, the GM here at WEMU, is a Wolverine.
Lisa Barry: Right. Big football fan.
Michael Jewett: She's like the biggest Wolverine I know. And it's, like, the first person I share this with was Molly, which I always remember. I walk into Molly's office like, "Molly, you're not going to believe this." And I tell the story. And she's, you know, we're both just like. They're going to make a trophy out George Jewett. It was, yeah, it was like we won the show. It's like we won an Oscar and the Super Bowl and the Lotto all in one, because there's just not that many named trophies. You know, in college, this is a big, big deal. So, yeah, so sharing that with Molly was a magical moment. So, and then, you know, it went through the whole thing of talking to family and everything. But, yeah, being able to share it with some wolverines that I know is pretty cool.
Lisa Barry: He played in the late eighteen hundreds, so growing up...
Michael Jewett: 1895, 18 ninety something. Yeah, it's a whole different era.
Lisa Barry: Right.
Michael Jewett: Yeah. And football now, and people think football now, it's been, you know, it's been kind of like modern football. It's been the way it has been for, you know, fifty, sixty, seventy years or whatever. But football then was more, you know, it's much more much different rawer game.
Lisa Barry: Growing up, did your family talk about your great grandpa?
Michael Jewett: Oh yeah, he's very looms huge. Yeah, he's a much, you know, incredibly admired ancestor and everything. But, you know, and this is part of the bittersweet quality of all this, George Jewett, you know, has many achievements and whatnot. You know, he lived and died and but he didn't live very long. He died before his 40th birthday. So, there is a, you know, just the fact of his life being even short by, you know, someone born in 1870 by those standards. So, there is that kind of, like, when someone dies at an early age, there's that kind of like that void in other people's lives and whatnot. So, my grandfather, you know, basically grew up without a father. So, that's like one bittersweet part. When I say, George, I mean, the football player here, but there are actually three Georges since he had a son, his older son, the man I call my Uncle Bill, was a George. And George football player father had his father was a George, too. We kind of call him the blacksmith. So, in our family, we call the blacksmith the football player, and then everybody else has a name, so we know who we're talking about. But to get back to the bittersweet quality about all of this, you know, honestly, the overriding feeling for me is that I wish my father, my late father, could be here to see this because, you know, the cause of, you know, recognition for George Jewett the football player was a big, big thing for my father. Many people in Ann Arbor know Coleman Jewett, my late father. And you know, I would just have loved for my my father to be able to see this.
Lisa Barry: How significant do you think it is that he was the first--the very first--African-American player in football subdivision history? And that's being honored.
Michael Jewett: It's a big deal, you know? Yeah, it's a huge thin. And there's some complexity there, and you got you kind of get me out of my area of expertise or whatnot. I don't want to make an opinionated comment. That may be a little. It may be just like factually wrong or whatever. But, yeah, it is a big deal. You know, this is 1890s. Where it was the country then. You know, I mean, Jim Crow was becoming more and more entrenched. You know, if anybody talks to you about the good old days, challenge them on that, because the good old days, it was, like, people are dealing with all sorts of difficulties for all sorts of reasons, most of them not too great. Yeah, I think this is not the good old days. So, yeah, I mean, there was a lot of resistance and you know, I was talking about, you know, we had our guests on the other day, John Bacon. He's a great writer, you know, great historical mind and everything. And he pointed out, you know, how few people period went to college in the 1890s. This is a very rare thing to go to college. If you're African-American, even that much less common to compete in athletics as well and to exceed in athletics, the improbability of George Jewett's life and achievement and just the rarity of it is..it's something else. It really is. And for it to be acknowledged is a big deal. This is no small thing. And he's being, you know, he's being acknowledged. And I think when people see the trophy and there'll be announcements and whatnot, official statements, he's being honored as a student athlete. I really want to stress that. He is being honored as a student athlete. I don't want to spoil too much of the surprise or whatever, but I think the image of the trophy itself is more of a student than an athlete. You know, so that's very important. I think this is a big statement for both institutions, and I got it. You know, again, you know, I give props to everybody at Northwestern and everyone involved in, you know, putting this together and making this happen. This is a big statement that this is about George Jewett as a pioneering African-American, as a trailblazing pioneer, African-American student athlete. And I think you get back to Jewett, you know, family history and whatnot, there's, I think, a very, very strong family value, a core value and maybe and you know what? It probably goes back to George Jewett of the value of education and the value of scholarship and academics and how that can be a transforming and uplifting, uh, you know, agent in someone's life. There are so many educators. In fact the most common, you know, employment or life career path in my family history is something to do with education.
Lisa Barry: Well, he went on to become a doctor.
Michael Jewett: Well, yeah. And then there's, you know, some complexity with him being a doctor too. I mean, he opens a medical practice in Illinois around Northwestern, but that doesn't really prove to be, uh, he doesn't stick with it and comes returns to Michigan and then opens what would be like a dry cleaning place or a, you know, like a tailoring, dry cleaning place. He leaves medicine. So, it does not prove to be, you know, his career path of choice. He would be a licensed doctor in a state other than Michigan.
Lisa Barry: Can I ask what caused his early death?
Michael Jewett: It's not really clearly known, but we think that may have been vocationally related. It could have been exposed to chemicals that weren't all that healthy should be like dry cleaning chemicals and, like, the, you know, 19..it would be like an industrial-related, work-related, you know, not an accident, but, like, an overexposure to chemicals or something. Or he could have had an undiagnosed disease. We really don't know, but he died, like, basically, I think he'd be like 38 or 39. He was gone at an early age.
Lisa Barry: So the very first George Jewett Trophy game taking place this coming Saturday at Michigan Stadium in honor of Michael Jewett, our own Michael Jewett's great grandfather, George Jewett. And I have to ask, are you and your family will be there? You'll be watching, you'll be celebrating. Who are you cheering for?
Michael Jewett: Everybody. I'm cheering for George Jewett. You know, I'm cheering for my young cousin, who's the only football player out there now, who's going to be there in his football jersey, who's like the youngest living, you know, the youngest living descendant of George Jewett. And, you know, George Jewett is like a superhero to him. You know, he's like a hero, and that's, you know, that's the way it should be. You know that George Jewett will be an inspirational figure for his achievement, you know, on and off the field. That's a great thing. Yeah. It's a pretty overwhelming and uplifting thing. And I, you know, I just, you know, beyond joy, you know, beyond overjoyed about it. So, yeah, so very good.
Lisa Barry: We'll be thinking about you, Michael Jewett, when we watch the game. Congratulations to you and your family for this great distinction and honor.
Michael Jewett: And, again, well, thank you for talking about this. And again, kudos to everybody at Northwestern and the U of M for making it happen.
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