The National Football League (NFL) is the highest level of professional American football in the world. It was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Conference (later Association) and was renamed the National Football League in 1922. The NFL boasts a large number of non-white players, about 60-70% which is a far greater percentage than the 34% of the population of the United States, and many of these are African Americans. Unlike many other sports, black players were permitted to play at the formation of the league. Let’s find out who was the first black player to play in the NFL.
Who was the first African American NFL player?
There were two black NFL players that played in the inaugural season of the NFL (then called the American Professional Football Conference). The first was Fritz Pollard who played for the Akron Pros as a running back. A year later he became the head coach of the team and this also makes him the first African American head coach of an NFL team! He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
The other African American NFL player who played the inaugural season was Bobby Marshall. He played in the NFL from 1920 to 1925 with 3 separate teams (Red Rock Independents, Minneapolis Marines and the Duluth Kelleys). He was an accomplished all round sportsman and also competed in baseball, ice hockey, boxing and track. He played football and baseball for the University of Minnesota and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Did you know?
Unfortunately, all black players were removed from the NFL in 1927. They slowly returned in the following seasons only to be fully banned from the league in 1933. The first step in the integration process came when the Cleveland Rams wanted to move to Los Angeles. Part of the conditions of the move was that they integrated their team so they signed two black players. Kenny Washington was the first African American to be signed to an NFL team in the modern era!
Charles Follis is believed to be the first African American professional footballer. He played for the Shelby Blues in the Ohio League from 1902 to 1906. He became to first black pro footballer when he signed a professional contract in 1904.