When the Patriots take the field on Sunday afternoon, Coach Bill Belichick will be paying tribute to an important figure in NFL history -- Fritz Pollard. While Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard was a small but fierce running back, his legacy and impact on the game goes far beyond his stats.
Pollard became the first Black head coach in the American Professional Football Association, now the NFL, in 1921 for the Akron Pros.
Pollard served as a player-coach for the 1921 season, just his second year in the league, and in that time, he was just one of two Black players. In spite of the racism he faced, Pollard became a two-time All American.
"It was evident in my first year at Akron back in1919, that they didn't want Blacks in there getting that money. And here I was, playing and coaching and pulling down the highest salary in pro football," Pollard said, according his Pro Football Hall of Fame bio.
Before his professional career began, Pollard became the first Black player at Brown University, leading the team to a Rose Bowl appearance in 1916, and in the pursuit of playing football, Pollard faced discrimination and death threats, according to a WBUR story about Pollard's legacy.
When Pollard left the game of football to pursue business ventures, there were no longer Black players in the league. After noticing this resegregation of the league, Pollard launched his own team, the Brown Bombers, to prove that Black players like himself had what it took to compete. Though the team folded in 1938 due to the Great Depression, the league eventually reintegrated in 1946.
Pollard passed away in 1986, but he was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions, leadership and lasting impact on the game. In 2003, the Fritz Pollard Alliance was formed to champion diversity in the NFL through education and resources to succeed.
And during the Patriots game against the Dolphins, fans can see a nod to this important trailblazer on Belichick's visor.