Feb. 5, 2005
Frederick "Fritz" Pollard, a pioneer in racial advancement whose intercollegiate and professional careers produced a number of "firsts" for a black man playing football in the early part of the century, has been elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
In addition to Pollard, quarterbacks Dan Marino and Steve Young were also elected, along with Benny Friedman, who, along with Pollard, was chosen by the senior committee. All four will be inducted on August 7, 2005, in Canton, Ohio.
A member of the Brown University Class of 1919, Pollard was the first black to play in the Rose Bowl, starring for the 1915 Brown football team, who met Washington State in the first Rose Bowl game in 1916.
A swift and elusive back, Pollard led Brown to an 8-1 season in 1916, leading the Bears to their first ever win over Harvard, and back-to-back victories over Harvard and Yale (531 yards of total offense and three touchdowns on successive Saturdays). Following the season, he was the first African American to make Walter Camp's All-American backfield. Later, in the 1930's, Pollard was selected to Walter Camp's "All-Time College Dream Backfield."
Pollard's exploits in professional football have conjured up comparison to another great black pioneer, Jackie Robinson. Pollard was the first black coach in the National Football League, serving as a player-coach for the Akron in 1921. It was 68 years before the NFL had its next black head football coach, when Art Shell was named the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1989.
Pollard moved from runningback to quarterback was also the first black quarterback in the NFL. Pollard was the first black player in the NFL to play on the first NFL Championship Team in 1920.
Pollard had finished his playing and coaching career before a 1933 "gentlemen's agreement" among team owners effectively barred black athletes from the NFL. He returned to professional competition in 1935, however, as coach and owner of the Brown Bombers, a professional team that played in Harlem for three highly successful seasons - funded by a loan from John D. Rockefeller Jr., a friend from Pollard's days at Brown. The Bombers' roster was a Who's Who of black athletes at the time, including players from basketball and baseball leagues as well as former NFL stars.
Pollard was more than just a pioneer in football, he was a champion of racial advancement in all walks of life. A Renaissance man, Pollard was the founder of one of the nation's first black-owned securities firms (F.D. Pollard and Co., in Chicago), and established the first weekly black tabloid (N.Y. Independent News).
He went on to pursue many other ventures, founding a talent agency, a tax consulting firm, and got involved in film and music production. His son and grandson also attended Brown, and his son won a bronze medal in the 1936 Munich Olympics. In 1981, Brown University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree on Pollard, recognizing his achievements as athlete and leader.
Fritz Pollard is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Brown Athletics Hall of Fame, and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. In addition, the Black Coaches Association's Coach of the Year Award is named in honor of Fritz Pollard, and is presented annually at the annual BCA Convention.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS "Fritz" POLLARD
Historical Summary *
Born in 1894- Rogers Park (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 1915 Season - as a freshman, led Brown to the Rose Bowl vs. Washington State - First African American to play in Rose Bowl (1916).
1916 Season - led Brown to 8-1 record with 12 touchdowns; gained 144 yards rushing, 74 on kickoff returns, and 76 on punt returns vs. Yale (1 TD); 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 on Camp's backfield.
- Later (1930's) named to Grantland Rice's "Dream Team."
- Set world record in low hurdles on Brown track team, qualified for -Olympic team.
COACHING AND PROFESSIONAL CAREER
1919-20 - Coached at Lincoln University, a black college near Philadelphia, while in the military.
1919-26 - Played professionally for the Akron Indians - Akron became part of the American Professional Football Association in 1920.
- Akron won the first professional football championship in 1920 (unbeaten).
- Pollard was 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 - opened up the game with some of the formations used at Brown under E. N. Robinson '96.
- First African American head coach in NFL - Hammond Pros (Indiana).
- 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 - Pollard hired aspiring young players and NFL veterans.
- Coach all-black team in New York (Brown Bombers) from 1935-1938, again showcasing black athletes.
BUSINESS VENTURES - Founded first black investment firm in New York City.
- 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.
- Elected to National Football Hall of Fame (1954), first African-American elected.
- Elected to R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame (1967).
- Elected to Brown Athletic Hall of Fame (1971) (Inaugural year).
- Elected to National Black Hall of Fame (1973).
- Selected to Brown's 125th Anniversary All-Time Team (2003).
Fritz Pollard died in 1986 at the age of 92.
*For Pollard's biography, see Fritz Pollard, Pioneer in Racial Advancement