Who Was The First Black NFL Player?

The first black NFL player was Fritz Pollard, who played for the Akron Pros in 1920. Pollard was an accomplished player, helping lead the Pros to the NFL championship that year. He was also one of the first black head coaches in the league, serving as the team’s player-coach in 1921.

Early History

In the NFL’s early years, black players were not allowed to play in the league. This began to change in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1946 that the first black player, Kenny Washington, was signed to a team. Prior to Washington’s signing, there had been a number of black players who had tried out for the NFL, but none had been successful in making a team.


Prior to 1920 there were very few African American players in the National Football League (NFL). The league was priced out of reach for many black athletes, who instead played in all-black, semi-professional leagues. In 1919, Francis “Shuttle” Johnson became the first African American player to catch a pass in the NFL. But it wasn’t until 1920 that African American players began to join NFL rosters in earnest.


black athletes were surreptitiously recruited by individual teams. The first known black NFL player was Harold “Bill” Willis, who played for the Cleveland Browns (then known as the Canton Bulldogs) in 1946. Black players were banned from the league from 1934 until 1946. During this time, several all-black teams were formed, including the Miami Giants, Chicago Black Hawks, and Detroit Stars. These teams played against each other and against white teams in unofficial games.

The First Black NFL Player

The first black player in the National Football League was Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard. Fritz Pollard was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 27, 1894. He attended Brown University where he became the first African American to be named to the All-American football team. After college, Fritz Pollard played professional football for the Akron Pros, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Hammond Pros.

Their Contributions

The first African American player in the National Football League (NFL) was Kenny Washington, who joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. Prior to Washington’s signing, African Americans had been prohibited from playing in the NFL since 1933. In 1950, Washington was joined by Marion Motley and Bill Willis, who became the first African American players on their respective teams, the Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Rams. Although African American players had been a part of professional football teams in the 1920s, they were not allowed to play in the NFL until 1946.

Since then, many African American players have made significant contributions to the sport of professional football. Among them are Doug Williams, who was the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl; Jerry Rice, who is considered by many to be the greatest wide receiver of all time; and Emmitt Smith, who is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. African American players have also been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on numerous occasions. As of 2020, there are over 200 African American players in the NFL.

Today’s Legacy

difficult to find one person who can claim the title of being the first black player in the NFL. However, we can look at a few individuals who were some of the first black players in the NFL. These players made history and paved the way for future black athletes.

The Impact

In 1946, the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington, making him the first black player in the NFL. Prior to his signing, black players had been effectively banned from the league since 1933. Though there were a handful of black players in the league prior to Washington’s signing, they had all been forced to leave by the early 1930s.

Washington’s signing was a watershed moment for the NFL and for race relations in America more broadly. He played for four seasons with the Rams, making him one of the longest-tenured black players in NFL history at that time. His signing opened the door for other black players to enter the league, including future Hall of Famers like Marion Motley and Don Hutson.

Today, nearly 70% of NFL players are black. The league has made a concerted effort to diversify its ranks in recent years, hiring its first female coach and its first full-time African American officials. While there is still room for improvement, the NFL has come a long way since Kenny Washington broke its color barrier nearly 75 years ago.

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