Acclaimed Rocky athlete profiled in new book

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Rock Island High School staff member David Sebben will hold a book signing for his recently released book, “Nothing Great is Easily Won: The Solomon Butler Story,” Thursday, Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. in the main entrance of the high school, 1400 25th Ave.

The self-published book by the high school hall monitor and local historian is about 1915 Rocky alum Sol Butler (1897-1954) – a world-class athlete who competed in the 1920 Olympics and was the second Black quarterback in the NFL.

The cover of “Nothing Great is Easily Won: The Solomon Butler Story” by David Sebben.
The cover of “Nothing Great is Easily Won: The Solomon Butler Story” by David Sebben.

Sebben spent seven years researching and writing this book, according to a high school release Tuesday. Guests on Thursday will get to meet the author and also see actual items related to Butler’s senior year at Rocky, including the prestigious National High School Track & Field Hall of Fame award.

The new book details the spectacular, eventful life of Butler, who overcame many racial issues throughout his high school, college, and professional athletic career in the early 1900s.

“Yet, through it all, he maintained dignity, class and character,” according to the book synopsis on Amazon. “Butler secured his own way to college, set numerous records at all levels he competed at, and represented the United States in the 1919 Inter-Allied Games (a military substitute for the cancelled Olympics) and was a participant in the 1920 Olympics. He was the second black quarterback in the NFL, playing for several of the early NFL teams.”

Butler was quarterback in 1923 for the Rock Island Independents (1907-1926), which played what is recognized as the first game in NFL history, Sept. 26, 1920, at Douglas Park, Rock Island.

After his professional football career, he went on to do many sports related activities, such as forming men’s and women’s basketball teams, and barnstormed across the country playing football, basketball, and baseball, according to the book summary.

Author David Sebben of Rock Island.
Author David Sebben of Rock Island.

In his later years, he owned the contracts of several black boxers, working with their training and managing their bouts. “There’s not much Butler didn’t do in his lifetime,” the synopsis says.

“Truly one of the best athletes in the world while he was in high school,” National High School Track & Field Hall of Fame chairman Josh Rowe said of Butler at the 2019 Hall of Fame induction. “His long jump was particularly special, jumping over 24 feet. At the time among the very best in the world.

“Those jumps today would still be among the top five or ten in any given year 100 years later,” Rowe said. “So his performances 100 years ago would still be incredible in today’s world…some other people in the inaugural class include Jesse Owens, Steve Prefontaine, Jim Ryan, so the company is pretty special that Sol Butler’s included with.”

Butler spent his senior year at Rock Island High, graduating in 1915, earned a scholarship to University of Dubuque, competed in the 1920 Olympics, and quarterbacked the Rock Island Independents of the NFL in 1923.
Butler spent his senior year at Rock Island High, graduating in 1915, earned a scholarship to University of Dubuque, competed in the 1920 Olympics, and quarterbacked the Rock Island Independents of the NFL in 1923.

Butler played 23 games in his NFL career, through 1926. He went on to work with youth as recreation director of Chicago’s Washington Park. He later married, but never had any children of his own. Butler reopened Jack’s Cafe, which had been previously owned by heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson.

In 1954, Butler died while working in a Chicago tavern, shot to death by one of the patrons he had ejected from the club. You can order Sebbens’ book HERE.

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