In a world where men are considered heroes because they have won championships or (even more important to some these days) made millions of dollars, the true meaning of a hero too often gets lost. The real measure of being a hero, in my opinion, should not be wins or money. It should be how are we remembered when we are dead and gone? Do you want an athlete who accomplished a lot for himself and his team? For me, a hero is very seldom an athlete. The ability to hit a three pointer or throw a touchdown pass does not make you a hero. For an athlete to be a hero he has to be bigger than the game he played. What makes him a hero to me is this: Did he or she use the sport they played to better other people’s lives and not just their own? Is he or she remembered after their passing for something more than what they did on the playing field? Today I will give you an example of a football player that was and is a hero to this day.
The player’s name I am talking about is Fritz Pollard and he is more relevant to the NFL today than he was when he played. Fritz started his football career at Brown University while also studying for his Chemistry Degree. While at Brown, the great coach Walter Camp once said that Pollard “was one of the greatest runners his eyes have ever seen”. He led Brown to the 1916 Rose Bowl where he faced an unfathomable amount of racism. Pollard was refused service by the Porters on the Pullman Train Car which carried his team across the country. The hotel management where his team was staying refused to give Pollard a room. They relented when the entire Brown University team threatened to leave and go home. The end of his senior year was marked by a historic first when Pollard was named a Walter Camp All-American, becoming the first African-American ever named to the team.
In 1920, he became the first African-American to play in the NFL when he signed with the Akron Pros. He led Akron to the first NFL Championship. Even back then, Pollard was quoted as saying that the most important thing to him “was the honor of becoming the first black coach, more than anything else”. He fulfilled that dream the very next year in 1921 when he was named the head coach of the Akron Pros. During his time in the NFL, he constantly had to deal with racial insults and rocks and bottles being thrown at him but he never lost his composure stating in 1922, “I didn’t get mad at them and want to fight them. I would just look at them and grin, then the next minute score an 80 yard touchdown run”.
Pollard’s NFL career lasted until 1926. In that time, he coached and played for the Akron Pros, Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros and the Providence Steam Rollers. Pollard and the other 9 African-Americans in the NFL at that time were kicked out of the league in 1926 never to return. Pollard founded and coached the Chicago Blackhawks all African-American team in 1928. The Blackhawks were a barnstorming team that became very popular on the west coast until they ceased operations in 1938.
After football is where Pollard really left his mark. In 1935 he founded the nation’s first all-black tabloid in New York called the “Independent News”. He followed that with founding the first Black investment firm. Pollard passed away in 1986 at the age of 92. Pollard’s impact is still felt today with “The Rooney Rule” serving as a prime example. In March 2003 the Fritz Pollard Alliance was formed.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance promotes candidate talent development for coaching, front office executives and scouting staff throughout the National Football League (“NFL”) through strategic efforts including (but not limited to):
* Encouraging adoption of rules and practices that foster diversity on NFL teams
* Educating NFL team owners and managers regarding the availability of minority candidates for team staff positions
* Advocating the hiring and promotion of minority candidates in NFL team staff hierarchy through public education and communication with team and league ownership and management
Pollard gained induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2006, Warren Moon was inducted as the first African American Quarterback to gain admittance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So I guess you can say, very literally, that Pollard led the way for him.