Lem Barney

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Lem Barney
refer to caption
Lem Barney in 2015
No. 20
Position: Cornerback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1945-09-08) September 8, 1945 (age 71)
Place of birth: Gulfport, Mississippi
Height: 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight: 188 lb (85 kg)
Career information
High school: Gulfport (MS) 33rd Avenue
College: Jackson State
NFL Draft: 1967 / Round: 2 / Pick: 34
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Interceptions: 56
Interception yards: 1,077
Touchdowns: 10
Player stats at NFL.com

Lemuel Joseph Barney (born September 8, 1945) is a former American football player. A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, he played college football at Jackson State from 1964 to 1966. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions and played for the Lions as a cornerback, return specialist, and punter from 1967 to 1977. He was selected as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1967, played in seven Pro Bowls, and was selected as a first-team All-NFL player in 1968 and 1969. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He has also been inducted into the Detroit Lions Hall of Fame, the Jackson State Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Early years[edit]

Barney was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1945. He attended the 33rd Avenue High School in Gulfport.[1] He played at the quarterback position for his high school football team.[2]

Football career[edit]

Jackson State[edit]

Barney attended Jackson State University, a historically black university in Jackson, Mississippi. He played college football for the Jackson State Tigers football team from 1964 to 1966 under head coach Rod Paige. He had 26 career interceptions at Jackson State, including nine in 1965 and 11 in 1966. He also had punt averages of 41.7 and 42.5 in those two seasons. Barney was an All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection three straight years. He was also selected as an All-American by Ebony magazine and the Pittsburgh Courier.[3]

Detroit Lions[edit]

Barney was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round, 34th overall pick, of the 1967 NFL Draft.[1] As a rookie in 1967, Barney appeared in all 12 games as a starting cornerback and led the NFL with 10 interceptions, 232 interception return yards and three interceptions returned for touchdowns.[1] After an injury to Pat Studstill, Barney also took over as the Lions' punter, punting 47 times for an average of 37.4 yards in 1967.[1] On September 17, 1967, in the first quarter of his first NFL game, Barney intercepted the first pass thrown in his direction by Bart Starr and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.[4][5] In the final game of his rookie season, Barney intercepted three passes within ten minutes and returned one 71 yards for a touchdown.[6][7] At the end of the 1967 season, he was selected by the Associated Press as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.[8]

After the 1967 season, Barney played in the 1968 Pro Bowl,[9] and in the off-season, he was married and also served six months of active duty in the Navy.[8]

Barney went on to be selected to seven Pro Bowls and was selected as a first-team All-NFL player in 1968 and 1969.[1] During his 11 years in the NFL, Barney had 56 interceptions, 1,011 interception return yards, and seven interceptions returned for touchdowns. He also returned 143 punts for 1,312 yards and three touchdowns as well as 50 kickoff returns for 1,274 yards, including a 98-yard return for touchdown.[1]


In March 1978, as part of a wiretap investigation into international drug smuggling, Barney's voice was heard allegedly discussing cocaine and amphetamines.[10] Although investigators stated that Barney was not the focus of the investigation,[11] the controversy received extensive press attention through the spring of 1978, as Barney was called to testify before a New York grand jury.[12][13]

In August 1978, the Lions placed Barney on the injured waiver list.[14] Barney's efforts to sign with another team were unsuccessful,[15] and he did not play during the 1978 season.[1][16] He was officially released by the Lions in February 1979.[17]

Awards and honors[edit]

After retiring as a player, Barney received numerous honors, including the following:


Barney is an accomplished singer who began singing with choirs in his youth and college.[26] He befriended Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye, when Gaye unsuccessfully tried out for the Lions in 1970. Barney and teammate Mel Farr sang background vocals on Gaye's classic 1971 song "What's Going On".[27][28] In 2015, Barney was invited to sing the national anthem at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.[26]

Barney also had a brief acting career, beginning with a self-portrayal in the 1968 comedy, Paper Lion. In 1973, he was one of the stars of the blaxploitation biker film, The Black Six.[29]

Family and later years[edit]

Barney and his wife, Martha, had a daughter, LaTrece, and a son, Lem III.[30] After retiring from the NFL, Barney worked for many years, starting in 1979, in public affairs for Michigan Consolidated Gas Company.[30] He also worked in the 1980s as a football broadcaster on BET and on pre-season games for the Detroit Lions.[30][31]

In March 1993, after his car crashed into a guardrail on a Detroit freeway, Barney was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and possession of cocaine and marijuana.[32][33][34][35] He was found not guilty of the drug charges following a jury trial in 2014.[36]

In 2006, Barney published an autobiography titled, "The Supernatural: Lem Barney".[37]

He held a public relations post at the Detroit Medical Center starting in 2006. After being fired from that position, he filed an age discrimination lawsuit in 2013.[38] Also in 2013, Barney publicly declared that, in light of revelations about brain injuries resulting from football, he would not play football if he had it to do over again, and predicted that the game of football would be gone in another 20 years.[39]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Lem Barney". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Lions Celebrate Lem Barney Day". Detroit Free Press. December 21, 1970. p. 12D. 
  3. ^ Jack Berry (July 12, 1967). "Lem Out to Corner Lion-Sized Job". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 4D. 
  4. ^ Jack Saylor (September 18, 1967). "Lions Up 17-0 ... but Packers Get a Tie". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D. 
  5. ^ a b Jerry Green (July 26, 1992). "Barney a star from the start". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1E, 8E. 
  6. ^ "A Cheer for Lions". Detroit Free Press. December 18, 1967. p. 16. 
  7. ^ "Barney, Farr Are Lion Stars". Detroit Free Press. December 18, 1967. p. 16. 
  8. ^ a b "Detroit Lions' Mel Farr, Lem Barney Are Voted NFL Rookies of the Year". The Express (PA). December 15, 1967. p. 19. 
  9. ^ "West Rallies in Pro Bowl". Detroit Free Press. January 22, 1968. p. 10. 
  10. ^ "My voice on wiretap, Barney says". Detroit Free Press. March 31, 1978. pp. 1D, 8D. 
  11. ^ "Barney isn't focus of N.Y. drug probe". Detroit Free Press. April 1, 1978. p. 1C. 
  12. ^ "Cops tapped Barney's phone". Detroit Free Press. March 30, 1978. p. 2D. 
  13. ^ Charlie Vincent (May 12, 1978). "Barney testifies in drug case". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 6D. 
  14. ^ "Barney through as Lion? Club places 11-year vet on injured waiver list". Detroit Free Press. August 29, 1978. pp. 1D, 2D. 
  15. ^ "Barney's regret: 'I never had a championship'". Detroit Free Press. August 30, 1978. p. 5D. 
  16. ^ Jack Saylor (November 5, 1978). "Forgotten Barney longs for another shot at NFL". p. 2E. 
  17. ^ Curt Sylvester (February 13, 1979). "It's official: Lem Barney is now a free agent". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D. 
  18. ^ Jack Saylor (November 2, 1980). "Lions' Lem hauled 'em in, now he's being halled in". Detroit Free Press. p. 2H. 
  19. ^ "Hall of Fame". Jackson State University. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Full Roster". Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Hall of Fame". Detroit Free Press. February 21, 1985. 
  22. ^ "Lemuel "Lem" Barney". Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  23. ^ "NFL's 10 All-Time Best Cornerbacks". Detroit Free Press. August 28, 1977. p. 7. 
  24. ^ "untitled". Democrat and Chronicle. August 15, 1999. 
  25. ^ "Detroit Lions: 20-20-20 vision". Democrat and Chronicle. November 26, 2004. p. 40. 
  26. ^ a b "Barney to sing national anthem at Hall of Fame". Detroit Free Press. August 2, 2015. p. C10. 
  27. ^ Crowe, Jerry (August 29, 2010). "Marvin Gaye once tried to make it in NFL, with help from Lem Barney, Mel Farr". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  28. ^ Justin Tinsley (August 21, 2015). "How Marvin Gaye's NFL tryout changed his career". ESPN.com. 
  29. ^ Joe Falls (November 4, 1973). "Great on the Grid, But the 'Black Six' Are Bums on the Screen". Detroit Free Press. p. 8C. 
  30. ^ a b c "Lem Barney: Former Lion still carries the ball for many good causes". Detroit Free Press. June 7, 1987. p. 3K. 
  31. ^ Joe Lapointe (August 25, 1986). "Barney 'secondary' to none as Lions' pre-season color analyst". Detroit Free Press. p. 1H. 
  32. ^ "Lem Barney arrested after car crash: He's uninjured; Ex-Lion faces liquor, cocaine charges". Detroit Free Press. March 20, 1993. p. 3A. 
  33. ^ "Barney's friends laud his charitable work". Detroit Free Press. March 23, 1993. pp. 3A, 4A. 
  34. ^ "A hero stumbles: No longer 'Supernatural'". Detroit Free Press. March 28, 1993. p. 1. 
  35. ^ "No decision on Lem Barney". Detroit Free Press. April 10, 1993. p. 10A. 
  36. ^ "Jury clears former Lion". Detroit Free Press. May 6, 1994. p. 1B. 
  37. ^ The Supernatural: Lem Barney. Immortal Investments Publishing. 2006. ISBN 0972363734. 
  38. ^ L. L. Brasier (March 30, 2013). "Ex-Detroit Lion files discrimination suit against DMC". Detroit Free Press. p. A3. 
  39. ^ Mark Snyder (June 14, 2013). "Lem Barney: Football will be gone in 20 years". USA Today. 

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