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Faith, family and football

NFL opened door to bigger aspirations

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne Bill Triplett looks over pictures from his playing days in the NFL. Triplett, a Girard graduate, played 10 years in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and Detroit Lions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribto day.com or metro editor Marly Kos inski at mkosinski@tribtoday.com.

YOUNGSTOWN — Some can only dream of a life in the National Football League and the glory that comes with it but for one man, the glory wasn’t his.

Bill Triplett believes football was only a door to lead him to his true calling — ministry.

Born in 1940 in Mississippi, Triplett and his family moved to Girard when he was 4. From then on, he’s called the Mahoning Valley home.

After graduating from Girard in 1958, Triplett spent the next four years playing football for the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, on a full scholarship. He graduated with a degree in industrial technology so that he could come back and help his dad in the steel mill.

Triplett had a brother, Mel, make his way to the NFL, and Bill believes that was the incentive for wanting to make it. Of course, a little sibling rivalry existed between the two on the field and in the classroom. “There’s always that comparison so that too was a motivation to aspire to do bigger and better things,” he said.

NFL AND RACISM

“My parents trained each of us is that being a person of color, in order to stand out or to get ahead, you had to be twice as good as the next person, and that’s always been embedded in the back of my mind,” he said.

Triplett played in the NFL when segregation was rampant. At the time, most teams fielded handfuls of black athletes. One instance, Triplett said, defined who he was and what he stood for.

As a rookie, he was on the former St. Louis Cardinals and the NFL was in the process of scouting potential cities for franchises. Jacksonville, Florida, was one of the potential cities. The Cardinals were set to play a night game against the reigning world champion Green Bay Packers.

Triplett said when the team would fly into a city, there was a bus to pick up players. This time, however, the team’s trainer and one of the assistant coaches flipped the six black players, including Triplett, keys to rental cars.

“We were instructed that we weren’t going with the team. We were going to a motel on the other side of the tracks,” Triplett said.

For team meetings, walk-through practices and other things that week, the team expected the six to drive and meet in the hotel where the white players stayed.

“I refused,” Triplett said. “By my refusing, two of my teammates did the same.”

After the game, the team flew back to St. Louis. The next day, after receiving treatment for some bumps and bruises, Triplett was asked to speak with team owner Charles Bidwill Jr . Bidwill questioned Triplett about what happened and his involvement in the players not following protocol.

“You speak of family. What parent would take some of their children and disband them to an unknown facility and tell them to just find their way?” Triplett responded. “I said not with me, sir. If we’re family in St. Louis, Detroit or wherever, we’re family as we travel all over. There should be no difference.”

Bidwill essentially responded by saying business is business.

“If you’re going to treat me like less than a person so you can make money, so be it — but you can trade me right now. Let me walk,” Triplett said.

Bidwill was shocked that anyone had approached him like that. But from that moment on, the situation that occurred in Jacksonville never happened again.

Triplett believes the conversation with Bidwill changed the dynamic for many teams.

MIRACLES HAPPEN

“In my conviction as my faith is concerned, I knew God had a plan for me to play football,” he said. ” He gave me the gifts, the talent and the ability to go off and pursue the game.”

After a few years into Triplett’s 10-year career, one of his doctors found something troubling in an X-ray. It turns out Triplett had tuberculosis in his right lung.

“Here I was, the epitome of health. Six-two, 228 pounds of raw-bone steel, and I hear my doctor tell me that this doesn’t look good,” Triplett said.

While in the hospital, he never lost faith. “On the third day of being in the hospital, I had a visitation from God himself,” Triplett said.

“I felt a rush and suddenly I heard a question: ‘Bill, who are you really playing this game for?’ and I immediately felt a wave of emotions. It was like He was wiping me clean,” Triplett said.

According to Triplett, the doctors were astonished at how quickly he recovered.

“They didn’t know that I had a visit from my Savior and He said, ‘No, not this one,'” Triplett said.

TRUE CALLING

Although still signed to the Cardinals, Bidwell didn’t want to take a chance on his health. So he spent the 1964 season as a public relations representative for the team. At the time he wasn’t a good speaker, but little did he know this would prepare him for the rest of his life.

“To a boy who grew up with a family of 12 and was shy and bashful of speaking, it didn’t dawn on me that it was God training me,” Triplett said.

After retiring from the NFL, Triplett began working for General Motors in organization development at GM’s central office in Michigan. After a short while, Triplett got the opportunity to work for Packard Electric locally. He was able to be closer to his father for the later parts of his father’s life. He retired completely in the 1980s but still found busy work with his family’s construction company.

Triplett was volunteering at a drug and alcohol counseling center when he met his second wife Sheila, also a volunteer. They have been together for more than 30 years. From their previous marriages, they have five children, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

For years he traveled the country as a spokesman and to spread God’s word with organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Sports World Ministry.

“Every day I wake up and ask: ‘What do you have for me to do today?’ and God pencils everything in,” Triplett said.

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