Notable Sports Deaths in 2020: July

By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus

As the year slowly begins to wind down, BASN will devote the final 12 days of 2020 to look back at the pioneers, contributors, and innovators we lost during the last 12 months. The specter of Covid-19 has been prevalent all year and the sports world was no different.

Today, we focus on the month of July.

JULY

Brad Pye Jr., journalist (7/5)

Pye, Jr., a trailblazing sports writer and broadcaster, passed away, at his home in Los Angeles. Pye, who was recognized throughout the nation for his pioneering efforts on behalf of African American athletes, suffered from various health issues that contributed to his death at the age of 89. Pye attained many “firsts” during his long career. His achievements include being the first recognized African American sportswriter in Southern California, the first Black administrator for the NFL Commissioner and the first African American public relations and scout for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers. Also, he served nearly 30 years as the sports editor for the Los Angeles Sentinel. In this capacity, the newspaper won top awards from the National Newspaper Publishers Association for 10 consecutive years. In addition, Pye led the effort in the 1960s for African American journalists to be admitted to the press areas of professional sports teams.

David Lewis, NFL star (7/14)

Lewis, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker who played a key role in the team’s first run of success, has died at the age of 65. A second round pick in the 1977 NFL Draft out of USC, Lewis became one of many defensive playmakers for a Bucs team that quickly went from an NFL laughingstock to division champs and challenging for a Super Bowl run. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 1980, and spent five of his seven NFL seasons in Tampa Bay, playing the best football of his career for the Bucs. Most recently, Lewis was coaching high school football at Tampa Catholic.

Tony Taylor, MLB star (7/16)

Taylor, a second baseman who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and Detroit Tigers, died due to complications following a stroke at age 84. A native of Cuba, Taylor was 18 when he signed as an amateur free agent with the New York Giants in 1954. He didn’t make his MLB debut until 1958, when he signed with the Chicago Cubs and became their starting second baseman. In 1960, Taylor was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and he played on the National League All-Star team that year. A fan favorite, Taylor set a record with the Phillies for playing 1003 games at second base, though his record was later broken. He led the Phillies in stolen bases six times. In 1971, Taylor was traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he was part of the division title-winning team in 1972. He returned to the Phillies as a free agent in 1974, closing out his career there before his retirement in 1976. Taylor was later a coach for the Phillies, the Giants, and the Florida Marlins.

Carlton Haselrig, NFL star (7/22)

Haselrig, the only six-time wrestling champion in NCAA history who went on to become a Pro Bowl guard with the Steelers and a mixed martial arts champion, died at the age of 54. He collapsed in his Johnstown home at 8:15 a.m. and was pronounced dead a little more than an hour later, according to Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees. Haselrig’s death appeared to be from natural causes, Lees said. During a remarkable three-year stretch in the late 1980s, Haselrig became the first and last wrestler to win six NCAA individual championships, claiming both the NCAA Division I and Division II titles for three consecutive years. Despite not having played football since high school, the Steelers were infatuated with Haselrig’s athletic talent and took him in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL draft. By his third year in the league, he cracked the team’s starting lineup on the offensive line. In 1992, he made the Pro Bowl and helped the Steelers win a division title.

John Blake, college/pro football coach (7/23)

A former head coach for Oklahoma, Blake died at age 59. Blake, a Sooners nose guard under Barry Switzer, coached his alma mater from 1996 to 1998 and was an assistant at the college and in the NFL. Switzer told KWTV’s Dean Blevins that Blake died of a heart attack while out walking. Blake served as an assistant at Tulsa, at Oklahoma and with the Dallas Cowboys before landing the Sooners’ top job at age 34 on Dec. 31, 1995. He became the first Black head coach in any sport in school history and went 12-22 with the Sooners. Blake went on to coach defensive line at Mississippi State, Nebraska and North Carolina before resigning in 2010 amid an investigation into players’ involvement with agent Gary Wichard, a longtime friend of Blake’s. The NCAA in 2012 gave Blake a three-year show-cause order for his involvement in the North Carolina scandal. He spent his final season in coaching with the Buffalo Bills in 2016.

Naazim Richardson, boxing trainer (7/24)

A legendary Philadelphia boxing trainer, Richardson died following a lengthy illness. He was 55. Richardson was noted for training boxers such as Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, former champions “Sugar” Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham and his nephew, Karl Dargan. Richardson worked with many boxers out of the James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gymnasium in West Philadelphia. Richardson carved out quite a reputation as a boxing trainer at Shuler Gym. His knowledge and experience in boxing served him well for a number of years. Richardson suffered a stroke in 2007 that temporarily left him unable to speak or walk, but he recovered and came back to train fighters. Richardson’s son, junior welterweight Rock Allen (15-0, 7 KOs), was a top prospect whose career was derailed by serious injuries suffered in a car accident. Tiger Allen, Rock’s twin brother, went 3-0 as a pro. A light heavyweight, he had essentially stopped boxing before suffering lesser injuries in the same car accident.

NEXT: August.

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.com.

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