Mel Blount played professional football with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1970 through 1983. A four-time all-pro cornerback, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Melvin Cornell Blount was born on April 10, 1948, in Vidalia, in Toombs County, to Alice and James Blount. He was the youngest of eleven children. His father struggled as a subsistence farmer, and Blount grew up in a home without plumbing or electricity. To help their parents provide for the family, Blount and his siblings worked as children; each morning before school Blount loaded stacks of tobacco on wagons.
At Lyons High School Blount excelled in football, basketball, baseball, and track, and he received an athletic scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a traditionally African American school. During college he starred on the football team as a defensive back and return specialist. He made the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) all-conference team twice and was selected SWAC Most Valuable Player (MVP) his junior year. In the spring of 1970, before he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the third round of the NFL draft as the fifty-third overall pick.
By his third year with the Steelers Blount was a fixture on the famed “Steel Curtain” defense. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1975 with eleven and was named NFL Defensive MVP for that year. He helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls and played in five Pro Bowls, earning MVP honors in the 1976 game. During his career he intercepted 57 passes for 736 return yards and recovered 13 fumbles, returning 2 for touchdowns. In addition to playing cornerback, he returned 36 kickoffs for 911 yards. He played in 200 games and missed only one over the course of 14 seasons. Blount retired after the 1983 season and then served as NFL director of player relations until 1990.
During his last season with the Steelers he and his brother opened the Mel Blount Youth Home in Vidalia to assist boys who are victims of abuse or neglect. In 1989, a day before his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he opened a second boys’ home in Claysville, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Blount describes the racism he faced in opening the homes, which have largely helped boys from minority groups, in his book The Cross Burns Brightly (1993). Since opening the first home, Blount has worked continuously as an advocate for troubled boys. In 1997 he was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
An accomplished horseman, Blount won the open division of the 1990 cutting horse championship at the Florida Cutting Horse Association Show. That same year he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.