Black History Month And The NFL: It Is Complicated

There have been some problems.

February is Black History Month and the National Football League has had a very complicated history with African-Americans in its 100 years of existence. The American Professional Football Association’s Akron franchise hired an African American coach, Fritz Pollard, in 1921. Pollard had been a star college player and joined the league in 1920. Pollard was one of two African-American players in the APFA’s first season. The APFA was renamed the NFL in 1922.  Pollard was the Akron Pros co-head coach in 1921 and the Hammond Pros head coach in 1925. But Pollard and other African-American players disappeared from the NFL following the 1925 season. A few African American players popped up on rosters between 1927 and 1933 but in 1934, the NFL began a 12-year period of not having any black players in the league. The NFL ended an informal color ban in 1946 as Los Angeles Coliseum officials told Cleveland Rams owner Daniel Reeves he could move his team and sign a stadium lease at the venue if he hired Negro players. In 1946, the rival All-America Football Conference signed black players. In 1960, the rival American Football League hired black players.

The NFL had an unofficial quota of no more than four blacks per team in the 1950s. George Preston Marshall did not hire Negro players for his Washington team and was the last holdout. Marshall gave in because of a threat by the Kennedy Administration to bar Marshall from moving his football team into a federally funded DC Stadium in 1962 because of equal opportunity work requirements. The NFL did not have its second African American head coach until 1989 when Art Shell became the Los Angeles Raiders coach. In 2020, there have been complaints, NFL owners are not hiring qualified black head coaches.

AFC quarterback Lamar Jackson, of the Baltimore Ravens, (8) looks to pass, during the first half of the NFL Pro Bowl football game against the NFC, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)