One of Mississippi State’s first Black football players, Robert Bell, has died 

Bell played on the Bulldogs' defensive line until he graduated from Mississippi State in 1973 with a degree in business administration.

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In 1969, Robert Bell enrolled at Mississippi State University and, a year later, alongside the late Frank Dowsing, Jr., integrated the school’s football team. The following year, he and Dowsing helped lead the school to its first winning season in over seven years. 

Bell — who played on the Bulldogs’ defensive line until he graduated from Mississippi State in 1973 with a degree in business administration — passed away Tuesday night at the age of 70, according to The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

Mississippi State graduate Robert Bell, who, alongside the late Frank Dowsing, Jr., integrated the school’s football team in 1970, died Tuesday at age 70. (Photo: hailstate.com)

“The Mississippi State University family is deeply saddened at the passing of the great Bulldog football defender Robert Bell,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “Robert played a pivotal role in bringing change to our state and our university through his courage, character and zeal to compete.”

Keenum was part of the committee that created the Dowsing-Bell Plaza at Davis Wade Stadium. There’s also an award, named after the two men, which is bestowed on athletes who show determination to overcome obstacles, exemplifying their exceptional character. 

“Robert was not only a pioneer. He was a friend, husband and father,” said Robert Barnes, chair of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association Black Alumni Advisory Council. “We are praying for peace and comfort for his family. He loved Mississippi State and longed to visit in his final days during his illness.”

Bell, who hailed from Meridian, Mississippi, had relocated to Houston, Texas. 

“We are saddened by the loss of Robert Bell,” said MSU Athletic Director John Cohen. “Robert helped pave the way for other African-American student-athletes at Mississippi State. We are forever indebted to Robert and know that his legacy will live on. We share our deepest sympathy with Robert’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone touched by Robert’s groundbreaking life.”

Bell told The Meridian Star back in 2017 that he was encouraged to attend Mississippi State University by a high school guidance counselor. 

As one of its first Black football players, Bell said of his early time at MSU, “You were a little more concerned and conscious of what you had to do, and what you did [like] meeting up with some of the guys and knowing them and getting to know them, and them learning me.”

He noted that his teammates “were nice and friendly, and I tried to be nice and friendly, too. Some of them would speak, some of them wouldn’t speak, so that’s OK. Some of them would maybe just come up to you, and you’d say what your name is, and a few of them did that. I’m not going to say a whole lot did that, but I considered it to be a friendly atmosphere. I didn’t have any particular problems.”

Funeral arrangements for Bell are pending. Dowsing died of AIDS in 1994 at the age of 42.

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