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Distributed February 18, 2004
Contact Mark Nickel or Chris Humm

Fritz Pollard and early African American professional football players

Brown University and the Black Coaches Association will co-sponsor an annual award honoring Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard of Brown’s Class of 1919. Pollard, the first African American to play in a Rose Bowl Game (for Brown, in 1916) and first to coach in the NFL, was a tireless promoter of integrated rosters in the early days of professional football. (See also news release 03-078)

Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard

Born in 1894 in Rogers Park, Ill., a Chicago Suburb – one of eight children

  • Lane Technical High School (1912) 3-year All Cook County halfback, 3 years on track and baseball teams

Brown University career

1915 season – as a freshman, led Brown to the Rose Bowl vs. Washington State

  • First African American to play in Rose Bowl (1916)
  • In spring 1916, set world record in low hurdles on Brown track team, qualified for Olympic team

1916 seasonled Brown to 8-1 record with 12 touchdowns

  • Against Yale, gained 144 yards rushing, 74 on kickoff returns, and 76 on punt returns (1 TD)
  • Against Harvard, gained 148 yards rushing, 44 on punt returns, and 51 as a pass receiver in Brown’s first victory over Harvard (2 TD’s)
  • Brown was first college to defeat Yale and Harvard in the same season.
  • Named to Walter Camp’s All-American first team, the first African American in the backfield
  • Later (1930’s) named to Grantland Rice’s “Dream Team”

Coaching and professional career

1919-20Coached at Lincoln University, a black college near Philadelphia, while in the military

1919-26in the American Professional Football Association

  • Began with Akron Pros, which became part of the APFA in 1920
  • Akron won the first professional football national championship in 1920 (unbeaten)
  • One of the first three African American players in early pro football; Pollard and Jim Thorpe were the major gate attractions
  • Player/coach at Akron – introduced formations used at Brown under E.N. Robinson ’96
  • First African American head coach in NFL – Hammond, Ind., Pros
  • First African American quarterback in NFL – 1923
  • Recruited prominent black players for APFA and NFL
  • Organized first inter-racial all-star game in Chicago to showcase African American players; Pollard pressed for integrated competition in professional football (1922)
  • First African American to play in Pennsylvania Coal League
  • Hired as a gate attraction for the Providence Steamrollers-Chicago Bears exhibition game at Braves Field, Boston, in December 1925 – Pollard vs. Red Grange
  • Organized All-Star African American team (Chicago Black Hawks) to promote inter-racial football, hired aspiring young players and NFL veterans
  • Coached all-black team in New York (Brown Bombers) from 1935-1938

Business ventures

  • Founded first black investment firm, F.D. Pollard and Co.
  • Established first weekly black tabloid (N.Y. Independent News)
  • Managed Suntan Movie Studio in Harlem
  • Founded coal delivery companies in Chicago and New York
  • As a theatrical agent, Pollard booked black talent in white clubs in New York
  • Tax consultant

Other honors

  • First African American elected to National College Football Hall of Fame (1954)
  • Elected to R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame (1967)
  • Elected to Brown Athletic Hall of Fame (1971, the inaugural year)
  • Elected to National Black Hall of Fame (1973)
  • Honorary Doctor of Letters (LL.D.) conferred by Brown University (1981)
  • Selected for Brown’s 125th Anniversary All-Time Team (2003)

Pollard died in 1986 at the age of 92.

Early press reports on Fritz Pollard

Dec. 10, 1916
New York Times
Gridiron Stars of East Picked
“Pollard Wonder of the Year”

In the backfield, one player stands out with unusual prominence. Spectators in the Yale Bowl, the Harvard Stadium and at Andrews Field in Providence will not soon forget the remarkable playing of Brown’s negro back, Fritz Pollard. He is a player of such brilliancy as illumines the gridiron about every half dozen years. Pollard is a natural football player. He is always away to flying start, has great speed, and an ability to dodge and squirm through an open field which is almost uncanny.

The fleet negro revealed this Autumn the resiliency of a rubber ball. No sooner was he thrown by a tackler than he was up and away again. No back of the year was able to shake off tacklers as did Pollard. The best of the season's ends have thrown themselves at him, and their arms have become locked about his body only to have the elusive runner tear himself loose and gallop ahead. His was a wonderful change of pace. He could sidestep, dodge and zigzag as prettily as the best backs the game has seen.

Against Yale and Harvard Pollard's work was nothing short of thrilling. Once in the Yale game he caught one of LeGore's punts and raced 50 yards through the whole Yale team for a touchdown. At every stage of this dazzling performance sturdy arms clad in blue yawned for him, but Pollard trickily shot out of their reach. Tacklers charged him fiercely enough to knock the wind out of any ordinary individual, but Pollard had the asset which is the greatest to a football player – he refused to be hurt. It required a terrific shock to upset him. An ordinary tackle did nothing more than make him swerve slightly out of his course. In the thick and fury of a football scrimmage Pollard exhibited the equilibrium of a circus athlete.

Nov. 23, 1932
New York Times
On College Gridirons
By Allison Danzig

The amazingly elusive Pollard, who weighed only 148 pounds, was the phantom of the gridiron. The shiftiness and speed of this wraithlike figure, his ability to knife through the narrowest openings and spin out of the clutches of the enemy, were the talk of the football world.

Dec. 23, 1964
New York Times
Sports of The Times
By Arthur Daley

They stand in the wings, each wondering if he will get the call. The lucky few will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, late next summer. But selection time is almost upon the special committee of 14 experts who will assemble at the Canton shrine next Monday to evaluate the most deserving. It will be a titantic job.

Can the committe continue to skip past such vaunted pioneers from the first-time period as Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Joe Guyon, Keith Molesworth and Fritz Pollard, to name only a few?

African Americans and the NFL

Black NFL players, 1920-33

  • Fritz Pollard (Brown, back): Akron 1919-21; Milwaukee 1922; Hammond 1923-25;
    Providence 1925; Akron 1925-26
  • Robert 'Rube' Marshall (Minnesota, end): Rock Island 1919-21; Duluth 1925
  • Paul Robeson (Rutgers, end): Akron 1921; Milwaukee 1922
  • Jaye 'Inky' Williams (Brown, end): Canton 1921; Hammond 1921-26; Dayton 1924;
    Cleveland 1925
  • John Shelbourne (Dartmouth, back): Hammond 1922
  • Fred 'Duke' Slater (Iowa, tackle): Milwaukee 1922; Rock Island 1922-26;
    Chicago Cardinals 1926-31
  • James Turner (Northwestern, back): Milwaukee 1923
  • Sol Butler (Dubuque, back): Rock Island 1923; Hammond 1923-24; Akron 1924;
    Hammond 1926; Canton 1926
  • Dick Hudson (Creighton, back): Minneapolis 1923; Hammond 1925-26
  • Harold Bradley (Washington, guard): Chicago Cardinals 1928
  • David Myers (NYU, guard/back): Staten Island 1930; Brooklyn 1931
  • Joe Lillard (Oregon, back): Chicago Cardinals 1932-33
  • Ray Kemp (Duquesne, tackle): Pittsburgh Pirates 1933

All-time black NFL head coaches

  • Fritz Pollard: Akron, 1921; Milwaukee, 1925
  • Art Shell: L.A. Raiders, 1989-94
  • Dennis Green: Minnesota, 1992-2001
  • Ray Rhodes: Philadelphia, 1995-98; Green Bay, 1999
  • Tony Dungy: Tampa Bay, 1996-2001; Indianapolis, 2002-present
  • Terry Robiskie: Washington, 2000
  • Herman Edwards: Jets, 2001-present
  • Marvin Lewis: Bengals, 2003-present


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