Frederick D. Pollard

From Ohio History Central

Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard was a prominent college and professional football player and coach in the first half of the twentieth century.

Pollard was born on January 27, 1894. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois, where he excelled in a number of different sports. In high school, Pollard played on his school's baseball, football, and track teams. He attended Northwestern University, Harvard University, and Dartmouth University, playing on each school's football team. Brown University offered Pollard a scholarship, and he led the school's football team to the Rose Bowl in 1916. Pollard was the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl. He also was only the second African American named as an All-American in football.

After graduating from Brown University, Pollard held several jobs. He took courses toward a degree in dentistry, directed a YMCA, and coached football at Lincoln University. The love of athletic competition eventually led Pollard to return to football as a player. In 1919, he joined the Akron Pros, a professional football team in Akron, Ohio. The Pros became a charter member of the American Professional Football Association in 1920. This league became the National Football League in 1922.

With the Akron Pros, Pollard helped the team win the American Professional Football League championship in 1920. In that season, he led the team in rushing, receiving, scoring, and punt return yardage. In 1921, Pollard became co-head coach of the Pros. In 1922, he joined the Milwaukee Badgers, and in 1923, he became a player for the Hammond Pros. He played the 1924 season with the Gilberton Cadamounts, an independent professional football team and rejoined the Hammond Pros for part of the 1925 season. In 1925, he also played for the Providence Steam Roller and the Akron Indians. He finished his career in the National Football League in 1926 with the Akron Indians. Some sources claim that Pollard only served as head coach of the Akron Pros. Other sources, including Pollard himself, contended that he served as the head coach for the Milwaukee Badgers, the Hammond Pros, the Providence Steam Roller, and the Akron Indians. Despite this debate, Pollard clearly served as the first African-American head coach of an American Professional Football League and a National Football League team.

Pollard experienced racial discrimination during his career in professional football. He routinely could not eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as his teammates. Players on opposing teams commonly tried to harm him by piling onto him after a play was over. To prevent this from occurring, Pollard usually rolled over onto his back and put his shoes' cleats into the air. Beginning in 1934, the National Football League permitted an unofficial ban on African-American players. Between 1934 and 1946, no black athletes played in the league. Responding to this ban, Pollard formed the Bronx Bombers in New York City. This team consisted of only African Americans. Before forming the Bronx Bombers, Pollard established the Chicago Black Hawks, an all African-American team in Chicago, Illinois.

Pollard retired from football in 1937. He died on May 11, 1986. In honor of Pollard's achievements, the Black Coaches Association renamed its Male Coach of the Year Award the Fritz Pollard Award in 2004. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Pollard as a member in 2005.

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