Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist
But art remained in Ernie’s heart and followed him through high school, college, and into the NFL. Ernie saw art all around him: in the dynamic energy of the game, the precision of plays, and the nimble movement of his teammates. He poured his passion into his game and his craft, and became famous as both a professional athlete and as an artist whose paintings reflected his love of the sport and celebrated Black bodies as graceful and beautiful.
He played for the Baltimore Colts (1959–60), Titans of New York (1960), San Diego Chargers (1960–62), and the Denver Broncos (1963–64). In 1965, Barnes signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Canada, but fractured his right foot, which ended his professional football career. Soon after, he met New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin, who was impressed by Barnes and his art. In 1966, Barnes had a debut solo exhibition in New York City, sponsored by Werblin at the Grand Central Art Galleries; all the paintings were sold. Barnes became so well-known as an artist that one of his paintings was featured in the opening credits of the TV show Good Times, and he was commissioned to create official posters for the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympics.