On Sunday, former Kansas City Chiefs player Dr. Pellom McDaniels III died suddenly at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 52.
After playing as a defensive end at Oregon State, McDaniels was with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1991 and then spent two seasons with the Birmingham Fire of the World Football League. He joined the Chiefs practice squad in 1992 and played as a backup from 1993 through 1998, appearing in 74 games and starting 14. His best season was in 1997, when he started six games, accumulating 23 tackles (20 solo), 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
He then played a full season with the Atlanta Falcons, ending his career when he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs after a long flight from Japan, where the Falcons had played the Dallas Cowboys in the American Bowl — a preseason game in Tokyo.
McDaniels had long considered a career in broadcasting when his football career ended — fans may recall the cable talk show he hosted during his Chiefs career and his work as a color commentator for Kansas City-area high school football broadcasts — but his life changed when he attended an event at Atlanta’s Emory University featuring scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. There he met Emory professor Rudolph Byrd, who encouraged him to enter the university’s graduate program.
“Because I was on injured reserve for the Falcons, on blood thinners and had a lot of time, I had the opportunity to spend an extraordinary amount of time reading and beginning preparing for GRE,” McDaniels recalled of readying himself for the standard Graduate Record Examinations in 2013. “I applied to the program and once I learned I was accepted, my path as an academic was set.”
At Emory, McDaniels earned both a master of arts and PhD degree in American Studies. His doctoral dissertation investigated issues of race, class and sports participation in the masculine identity of African Americans.
After serving as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he joined the Emory faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies and the associate curator of African American collections for the university’s Rose Library. He became the full-time curator in 2018.
McDaniels wrote a number of books, including “My Own Harlem” (1998), “So, You Want to be Pro” (2000), “The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy” (2013) and “Porter, Steward, Citizen: An African American’s Memoir of World War I” (2017). He also served on the boards of two Kansas City landmarks: the National World War I Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“The depth of our sorrow and grief at Pellom’s passing is matched only by our boundless appreciation and admiration for the tremendous gifts and contributions Pellom brought to his life’s work to elevate and celebrate African American history,” said Rose Library director Jennifer Gunter King.
“Utterly haunted by the death of my friend Pellom McDaniels — poet, writer, football player and man who dedicated himself to make the world better always,” tweeted former Kansas City Star Chiefs writer and columnist Joe Posnanski.
Former Chiefs wide receiver J.J. Birden also took to Twitter. “So sorry to hear about the loss of a great man, and teammate, Pellom McDaniels. We were rivals in college (Ducks vs Beavers) and teammates with the Chiefs. He was definitely one of the goods guys. He’ll be dearly missed!”
Dr. McDaniels is survived by his wife Navvab McDaniels and two children — his daughter Sofia and his son Ellington.