PARRISH, BERNARD PAUL “BERNIE” (29 April 1936-23 October 2019) was a football player and union organizer in the NFL.
Parrish was born in Long Beach, California, to Charles Albert and Margaret Rose Fitzpatrick Parrish. He was an all-state football and basketball player at P.K. Yonge High School, and went on to play football and baseball for the University of Florida. In 1958, he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds, but devoted his time to football after two seasons in the minor leagues.
The CLEVELAND BROWNS drafted him in the ninth round of the 1958 NFL draft, and a year later, he had established himself as a starting cornerback. In 1959, he picked off five passes, and the following year, he snagged six more interceptions, for a total of 238 return yards and a touchdown, in the first of his two Pro Bowl seasons.
He had seven interceptions in 1961, was named to the Pro Bowl in 1963 and was a key part and de facto player-coach for the Browns’ last championship team in 1964, when he was named an All-Pro by the Associated Press and the Sporting News. Parrish’s 29 interceptions remain seventh all-time in team history. He was named a Cleveland Browns Legend in 2017..
Parrish was waived by the Browns in 1966, and played 11 games with the Houston Oilers before retiring.
Parrish was the team’s NFL Players Association representative throughout his career, and served as vice president of the association from 1962-1965. He sought to create a union representing players from the NFL and the AFL, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, but those plans were thwarted in 1968 when the NFLPA declared itself an independent union, and not an association of people in the same profession.
In 1971, Parrish wrote a book, They Call It a Game, alleging he helped lead the revolt that led to PAUL BROWN’S firing and taking a dim view of the NFL, purported gambling influences and sports media. He remained a player advocate long after his NFL days were over. He lobbied for better pensions, filed a class action lawsuit against the NFLPA’s marketing subsidiary over licensing fees and testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee regarding the league’s handling of brain injuries.
Another lawsuit against the NFL in 2012 was folded into the class-action lawsuit filed by more than 5,000 former players regarding concussion effects. He opted out of the $1 billion settlement, and settled on his own.
Parrish was married three times, and had five children with his first wife, the former Caroll Congleton: Nina, Teresa, Bernie, Holly and Amy. He was grandfather to 13 and great-grandfather to three. He is buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.