Fritz Pollard was an early pioneer of professional football and was one of the first two Black players in the NFL. Among Pollard’s achievements, his most notable is the distinction he owns as the league’s first Black coach.
Born Fredrick Douglass Pollard on January 27, 1894 in Chicago, Ill., Pollard grew up in the German-Immigrant neighborhood of Rogers Park. One account says that Pollard earned the nickname “Fritz” from people in his neighborhood.
As one of the few Black families in Rogers Park, Pollard combated racism but excelled as a multi-sport athlete in high school at Lane Tech High.
Pollard won a Rockefeller Scholarship to the Ivy League institution, Brown University as a chemistry major. Starring for the university’s football squad, Pollard became the first Black player to star in the Rose Bowl after it was selected at the end of the 1915 season.
After leaving Brown, Pollard considered a career in dentistry before joining the military and working with the Army’s YMCA. Lincoln University named him a head coach, but he was later recruited by the Akron Pros professional football team out of Ohio. The Pros merged with the American Professional Football Association in 1920, making Pollard and Bobby Marshall the league’s first two Black players. The APFA later became the NFL.
Pollard, reported to be a punishing half-back despite being just 5-foot-9 and under 200 pounds, helped lead the team to the league’s first championship title. The Pros named Pollard a co-coach and player the following year and he performed that dual role for three other teams. Pollard also played in the grueling Pennsylvania “Coal League” as well.
In 1928, Pollard organized the Chicago Black Hawks, which was an all-Black professional independent professional team. The squad played white teams in and around Chicago but also became a popular exhibition team that toured throughout the West Coast before folding in 1932. In 1933, the NFL banned further signings of Black players.
Pollard organized and served as coach for another prominent all-Black football team, the Bronx Bombers, but folded the operations in 1938.
Pollard maintained a series of business ventures during and after his playing days, including founding the F.D. Pollard and Co. investment firm in 1922. In 1935, Pollard founded the first Black tabloid, the New York Independent News. Pollard also worked in the film and music industry, and also served as a tax consultant.
Pollard passed in 1986. He was posthumously inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame in 2005. Two years earlier, the Fritz Pollard Alliance was established to promote the hiring of minorities in the NFL.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)