Barney, Lem 1945–
Lem Barney 1945–
Former football player, broadcaster, finance director
One of the most versatile defensive backs to ever play in the NFL, Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions was a threat to the opposing team whenever he touched the ball. The Hall of Fame cornerback had sprinter speed and gained 1,057 yards on 56 interceptions during his ten-year career. When he retired from football in 1977, Barney retained his celebrity status as an advocate for youth and civic affairs and as a church leader. Additionally, Barney worked as a sports broadcaster and public relations executive for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. A 1993 arrest for drug possession tarnished his image somewhat, but Barney wove through the charges and negative publicity as if they were opposing tacklers and was eventually acquitted. He went on to become a finance director for former teammate Mel Farr at his auto dealership in Detroit, and continued to work on behalf of his community.
Born Lemuel Jackson Barney in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1945, Barney had an early affinity for football. A player since grade school, he went on to excel at the high school level as a defensive back and was also utilized as a punter, quarterback, kick returner, and holder. At Jackson State University in Mississippi, Barney had 26 interceptions in three seasons and was the team’s punter. After earning a bachelor’s degree in health and science in 1967, Barney was a second round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, a team he would play for throughout his career.
In his first professional game with the Lions, Barney returned an interception for a touchdown against the legendary Green Bay Packers. “I remember every detail,” Barney told James Buckley, Jr of NFL Publishing. “They got the ball first. First play is a run for 3 yards. Second play, [quarterback] Bart Starr tries a short out to Boyd Dowler. I read it, dive for the ball and grab it, do a forward somersault, get up and run 24 yards for the score. First pass ever thrown my way in the NFL and I took it in. I thought to myself, “Lord, this is going to be easy.’” Barney went on to become the team’s co-leader in interceptions and was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1967.
“Interceptions were my forte,” Barney admitted to Buckley. “I liked to think of myself as a defensive weapon turned offensive weapon. The keys were, and are, knowledge of your opponents and the guts to say that once the ball is in the air, it’s as much mine as his.” Although Barney made the Pro Bowl seven times, the Detroit Lions failed to achieve anything of note while he was on the roster. “We had some great players when I arrived in 1967,” Barney told George Puscas of the Detroit Free Press, “then when [head coach Joe] Schmidt resigned after 1971 and [defensive coach Jim] David left, it was a struggle. We had four different coaches and didn’t top .500 my last five years.”
During the late 1960s, Barney and Lions teammate Mel Farr became close friends with Motown singer Marvin Gaye. The trio would play golf and hang out together and, at one point, Gaye considered trying out for the Detroit Lions. The tryout never occurred.
At a Glance…
Born Lemuel Jackson Barney on September 8, 1945 in Gulfport, MS; married to Martha, 1967. children: Lem Ili, LaTrece. Education: Bachelor’s degree in health and science, Jackson State University, 1967.
Career: Professional football player for the Detroit Lions, 1967-77; sang backgroundvocals on the song “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, 1971; manager ofcivic affairs, Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, 1979-93; college football broadcaster, BlackEntertain-ment Television, 1980-; finance director, Mel Farr Automotive Group, 1993-.
Awards: Defensive Rookie of the Year, NFL, 1967; elected to seven Pro Bowls;inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1992; inducted into the Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame, 1992.
Addresses: Office —Mel Farr Automotive Group, 24750 Greenfield Road, Oak Park, Ml 48237.
Barney and Farr did, however, crossover to Gaye’s profession and the two can be heard at the beginning of Gaye’s 1971 classic song, “What’s Going On.” For their efforts, Barney and Farr received a gold record.
Following his retirement from professional football in 1977, Barney remained active within the community. He became involved with a number of organizations such as the United Way, Metro Detroit Youth Foundation, Detroit Adult Service Center, Children’s Hospital and many others. In 1979, he was hired as manager of civic affairs for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. One year later, Barney began a career as a color commentator of college football games for Black Entertainment Television.
In 1992 Barney was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming only the fifth cornerback to be inducted. “I never was on a championship team,” Barney reflected to Puscas of the Detroit Free Press, “not in grade school, high school, college or pro. Now I can feel like I really belong.” For the ceremony, Barney chose his former defensive coach Jim David to induct him. “If there was ever anybody better than Lem, I never saw or heard of him,” David declared to Puscas. “Nobody before or since measured up to him… He had speed and quickness and great acceleration. He had good hands, too, and a willingness to hit. And he was smart, really a smart player; he never beat us with a dumb play.”
Less than a year after his induction into the Hall of Fame, Barney was arrested after a traffic accident in Detroit on charges of drunken driving and possession of cocaine and marijuana. Many were shocked that the man who would often speak at school assemblies and instruct students to avoid drugs, would have been involved in such activity. Barney was fired from his job at Michigan Consolidated Gas Company and, after a year of negative publicity, was cleared of the charges. He then went to work as a financial director for former teammate Mel Farr, who owned a chain of automobile dealerships.
Barney continues to work with Farr and is still active with a number of organizations in the Detroit area. He is also a lay minister at the Springhill Missionary Baptist Church. Barney told Puscas that he lives his life with “the teachings and virtues that my mom and dad gave us, and the golden rule that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you—that’s all I try to do every day.”
Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1987, p. 3K; January 27, 1992, p. 3C; July 31, 1992, p. ID; November 20, 1992, p.IB; March 20, 1993, p. 3A; March 23, 1993, p. 3A; March 24, 1993, p. 1C; March 29, 1993, p. IB; April 10, 1993, p.l0A; April 16, 1993, p. 6B; April 22, 1993, p. IB; May 5, 1994, p. IB; May 6, 1994, p. IB.
Detroit News, December 16, 1999.
Jet, April 12, 1993, p. 50.
New York Times, January 26, 1992, p. S-7; August 2, 1992, p. S-8.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from
www.NFL.com/Lions/news/981126barney.html; and www.profootballhof.com/famers/barney.html
"Barney, Lem 1945–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/barney-lem-1945
"Barney, Lem 1945–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/barney-lem-1945
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