There was a time during the segregated era when Blacks were widely viewed by team owners and the general population as not smart enough to play in the NFL let alone be quarterbacks or coaches. As we get set to enjoy this Super Bowl Sunday, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on the history of African Americans and their journey to be accepted and play in the NFL.
First African American Drafted In The NFL:
Beginning his football career at Indiana University for the Hoosiers team, George Taliaferro played halfback, quarterback, and punter. He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the thirteenth round of the 1949 NFL Draft, however he chose to play for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference. He was the first African American to ever be drafted by an NFL team.
After playing for the Los Angeles Dons, George Taliaferro played in the NFL for the New York Yanks from 1950 to 1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952, the Baltimore Colts from 1953 to 1954, and Philadelphia Eagles in 1955.
George Taliaferro was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
Gerorge Taliaferro In His Words: George talks about what he would want for other African American’s that eventually would follow him.
Life & Legacy: Here’s a mini bio of George Taliaferro.
First Black Player:
Robert Wells Marshall was an American athlete who was best known for playing football. However he also competed in baseball, track, boxing, ice hockey and wrestling.
When Marshall played baseball for Minneapolis Central High School, he played first base for three years. Central was the champion of the Twin Cities High Schools for Marshall’s Junior and Senior years, of 1900 and 1901.
When he played baseball for the University of Minnesota, he also played first base for two years, 1904 and 1905, helping the University to win the Western Conference Championship in 1905.
Marshall played end for the football team of the University of Minnesota from 1904 to 1906. In 1906, Marshall kicked a 60-yard field goal to beat the University of Chicago 4-2 (field goals counted as four points). He was the first African American to play football in the Western Conference (later the Big Ten). He graduated in 1907 and played with Minneapolis pro teams, the Deans and the Marines. From 1920 through 1924 he played in the National Football League with the Rock Island Independents, the Minneapolis Marines, and the Duluth Kelleys. He along with Fritz Pollard were the first African Americans to play in the NFL.
First Black Coach:
Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard was the first African American head coach in the National Football League (NFL). Pollard along with Bobby Marshall were the first two African American players in the NFL in 1920. Football pioneer Walter Camp ranked Pollard as “one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen.”
Kenny “Kingfish” Washington: The first Black player to sign a contract in the NFL, 198 days before Jackie Robinson.
First Black Quarterback to win the Super Bowl: Doug Williams made NFL history when he won the Super Bowl and became the first African American quarterback to play in a Super Bowl and win, scoring four of Washington’s five touchdowns in an upset 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
First Black coach to win the Super Bowl: Tony Dungy was the first African American NFL coach to win the Super Bowl in 2006 .
Toni Harris is the first female player of any race to receive a full ride college scholarship and is striving to be the first female to play in the NFL. As she fought many personal struggles and health issues, Toni Harris reminds us all to follow your dreams and never let anyone put limitations on your dreams and abilities.
Although Fran Tarkington is credited for being the first running quarterback, Black quarterbacks who followed him have taken the mobile quarterback prototype to another level. From Joe Gilliam, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Vince Young, Michael Vick, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and a whole host of other Black quarterbacks have made major contributions to the way the game is played today and have made major contributions off the field as well. Most recently Colin Kaepernick brought awareness to the injustices of police brutality within the Black community by taking a knee during the National Anthem in peaceful protest.
However, Black coaches have yet to be given the same opportunities as White coaches. That’s something that needs to change and we won’t stop until Black coaches are given equal opportunities for head coaching positions.
God bless all of the Black players and coaches who continue to thrive and overcome the racial divide that still exists today.
Albert Earl Jr.
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