Monday, February 13, 2012

African-Americans in professional football

With more than 75% of NFL rosters being filled with African-Americans, it is hard to imagine professional football without them.  However, this was not always the case.  The NFL did not draft its first African-American player until the Chicago Bears in the 13th round of the 1949 draft selected George Taliaferro, a halfback from Indiana University.  He elected to sign with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).  He played with the Dons 1949; New York Yanks 1950-51; Dallas Texans 1952; Baltimore Colts 1953-54; and Philadelphia Eagles 1955.

A couple of months ago, I saw Third and Long.  It is an interesting documentary on the journey and triumphs of African-Americans in professional football.  It explored how the Great Depression and World War II impacted African-Americans in professional football.  I was shocked to learn that African-Americans played professional football during the 20’s and 30’s but were dismissed and barred from 1933 – 1946.

The documentary also highlighted the contributions of African-Americans and how they changed the sport.  As a marketing professional, my favorite story was of David “Deacon” Jones coining the term “sack.”  He was a starting defensive end and revolutionized the position.  Jones explained that he started using the term sack because he knew that journalists would not write a headline that read, “Jones tackles a quarterback.”  I agree, sack is much more impactful.  The new terminology affected salary negotiations for defensive players and became a recorded statistic.

Learn more about African-American pioneers in professional football and check out the NFL’s photo gallery of Firsts by African-Americans in the NFL Modern Era.

Heels & Helmets®

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