Frederick Douglass Pollard, also known as Fritz Pollard, was born on January 27, 1894. He spent his youth in Chicago, Illinois, where he excelled in sports. In high school, Pollard played on the school’s baseball, football, and track teams. He attended Northwestern University, Harvard University, and Dartmouth University, playing on each school’s football team. Eventually 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 an All-American in football.
Upon graduating from Brown University, Pollard held several jobs. He pursued a degree in dentistry, directed a YMCA, and also 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. This season, he led the team in rushing, receiving, scoring, and in punt return yardage. In 1921, Pollard became co-head coach of the Pros. Pollard remained as the Pros’ head coach for only the 1921 season. 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, rejoining 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, while other sources, including Pollard, contend 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 faced much discrimination in professional football. He routinely could not eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as 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, impaling anyone who tried to pile onto him after the play had ended. 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. In opposition to this ban, Pollard formed the Bronx Bombers in the Bronx, New York. This team consisted of only African Americans and performed admirably against all opponents. 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 in football, 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.