Former Chiefs player scores as UMKC professor

Dr. Pellom McDaniels played for the Chiefs from 1993 to 2000. Now, he teaches at UMKC full-time as an assistant professor of history. A scholar of American Studies, Black Studies and Sports and Masculinity, McDaniels’ uses his diverse interests in an interdisciplinary manner.
Dr. Pellom McDaniels played for the Chiefs from 1993 to 2000. Now, he teaches at UMKC full-time as an assistant professor of history. A scholar of American Studies, Black Studies and Sports and Masculinity, McDaniels’ uses his diverse interests in an interdisciplinary manner.

Dr. Pellom McDaniels played for the Chiefs from 1993 to 2000. Now, he teaches at UMKC full-time as an assistant professor of history. A scholar of American Studies, Black Studies and Sports and Masculinity, McDaniels’ uses his diverse interests in an interdisciplinary manner.

When an NFL player has the title of “professor,” it’s usually to laud his successes on the field or it’s a facetious nickname. In the case of UMKC assistant professor of history, Dr. Pellom McDaniels, it’s because he actually is one.

“I’ve had a love affair with Kansas City it seems since I moved here, especially the history and baseball and jazz and the community,” McDaniels said. “I played for the Chiefs yes, but I found myself more a part of the community.”

Originally from California, McDaniels played football at the University of Oregon, where he graduated in 1990 with a degree in communications. His first job out of college was at Proctor and Gamble, where he worked for a year until he quit after deciding not to give up on his dream of playing professional football. McDaniels became a free-agent, and after a few years ended up in Kansas City where he played defensive end for the Chiefs for seven years.

While in Kansas City, he had a talk show on Metro Sports and started his own business selling a dental hygiene product, which he invented and later sold the patent.

When McDaniels retired from professional football in 2000, he decided that at the age of 31 he wanted to go back to school and study history.

“While I was playing I was still learning in the off-season. I actually attended and was part of an online course at UMKC for a master’s degree in history,” McDaniels said. “I’ve always read and always had this desire and need to know how things happened, why things happened, what makes people do the things that they do, and so when I finished playing in the NFL I had a number of options.”

McDaniels attended a presentation at Emory University by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and was so inspired, he applied to the American Studies graduate program. He was accepted in 2001 and left six years later with a graduate degree and Ph.D. in American Studies.

McDaniels returned to Kansas City in the fall of 2007 and began teaching at UMKC. His areas of expertise are American Studies, Black Studies, Sports and Masculinity, but he doesn’t find himself bound to those specified expertise.

“Because my work is interdisciplinary, I think that the questions are boundless,” McDaniels said. “When we have a question that is a burning question you can’t just look through one lens, through one source. It should not be discipline-bound.”

This semester he’s teaching a graduate course on biography and is team-teaching a cluster course on race in film at the Tivoli. Last semester he taught a class called “Bar-B-Que, Baseball and Jazz,” where he assigned the class to make an exhibit that is now on display at the Miller Nichols Library until Jan. 29.

“I told them well you know, we don’t have any papers, I don’t give you any tests or exams; what you do is you’re going to build an exhibit,” McDaniels said. “We’re going to provide the community with a way in which to look at itself, to understand itself and we’ll do this in all of 12 weeks. The students did a great job.”

The exhibit focuses on the influences of barbecue, baseball and jazz in Kansas City, and highlights McDaniels’ hands-on style of teaching that incorporates the Socratic Method.

“I’m interested in cultivating thinkers. I’m interested in having students question why things are the way they are,” McDaniels said. “I think if anything, my students are more important to me than anything else.”

McDaniels is the author of two books and is currently researching his third book about a 19th-century African American jockey, which he hopes to finish within the next five months.

“I may be a faculty member who is teaching and a Ph.D., but you know I feel like a student all the time because I’m always learning, so it’s the perfect place for me, perfect occupation,” McDaniels said.

tsheffield@unews.com

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