About Fritz Pollard

Fritz Pollard grew up in Rogers Park, Illinois, a largely white suburb of Chicago. The seventh of eight children, young Fritz experienced racism first hand and learned from his family how to pick his battles and subdue his emotions in order to achieve his goals in a predominantly white world. A three-sport athlete at Lane Tech High, Pollard had notions of attending Dartmouth to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Leslie. But fate intervened. During a stopover in Providence in January 1913, Fritz had his first view of the Van Wickle gates sparkling in the sun; his career at Brown had begun.

During the 1915 and 1916 Brown football seasons, Pollard achieved legendary status, compiling “firsts” as frequently as he gained first downs. The first black to play in the Rose Bowl (1916), Fritz was also named to Walter Camp’s All America Team, and was the first African American in Camp’s backfield. Nicknamed “the human torpedo,” Pollard had almost single-handedly defeated Yale and Harvard (Brown’s first win over the Crimson) in 1916. The Bruins were the first college team to defeat both Ivy powerhouses in the same season. For his exploits at Brown, Pollard was elected to the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 — the first African American ever chosen.

As a professional player, Pollard continued to garner “firsts” in spite of the overt racism of the period. He was among the first African-Americans in the APFL and NFL leagues and, along with Jim Thorpe, was the major gate attraction. A Black man playing football in a predominantly white environment was a novelty in the 1920s. Fritz Pollard was the first African American to play on a championship team (1920), as well as the first Black quarterback (1923) and coach (1919).

Pollard’s efforts on behalf of African American athletes were Herculean. He organized Black teams such as the Chicago Black Hawks and the Brown Bombers in order to promote integrated competition in professional football.

A true renaissance man, Pollard broke barriers of every sort — in business and the entertainment industry, as well as in sports. At various times, he ran a newspaper, an investment advisory firm, and a coal company. His outgoing, engaging personality smoothed many a pathway in the business and professional worlds, and even led to some dabbling in politics.

Brown University career

1915 season – as a freshman, led Brown to the Rose Bowl vs. Washington State

• First African American to play in Rose Bowl (1916)
• In spring 1916, set world record in low hurdles on Brown track team, qualified for Olympic team

1916 season – led Brown to 8-1 record with 12 touchdowns

• Against Yale, gained 144 yards rushing, 74 on kickoff returns, and 76 on punt returns (1 TD)
• Against Harvard, 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 in the backfield
• Later (1930’s) named to Grantland Rice’s “Dream Team”

Coaching and professional career

1919-20 – Coached at Lincoln University, a black college near Philadelphia, while in the military

1919-26 – in the American Professional Football Association (APFA/“National Football League”)

• Began with Akron Pros, which became part of the APFA in 1920
• Akron won the first professional football national championship in 1920 (unbeaten)
• 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 – introduced formations used at Brown under E.N. Robinson ’96
• First African American head coach in NFL – Hammond, Ind., Pros
• 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, hired aspiring young players and NFL veterans
• Coached all-black team in New York (Brown Bombers) from 1935-1938

Business ventures

• Founded first black investment firm, F.D. Pollard and Co.
• 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

Other honors

• First African American elected to National College Football Hall of Fame (1954)
• Elected to R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame (1967)
• Elected to Brown Athletic Hall of Fame (1971, the inaugural year)
• Elected to National Black Hall of Fame (1973)
• Whitney M. Young, Jr., Memorial Award (1978)
• Honorary Doctor of Letters (LL.D.) conferred by Brown University (1981)
• Selected for Brown’s 125th Anniversary All-Time Team (2003)
• Elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame (2005)