The story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier is well known to many. But he wasn’t the first black athlete to integrate a North American sport in a major way. Decades before Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Fritz Pollard would become a trail blazer on the gridiron—becoming the NFL’s first black head coach. Here are five things to know about Pollard’s life and career.
He grew up in Chicago
Pollard was the seventh of eight children growing up the predominantly white Chicago suburb Rogers Park. Born to a Native American mother and West Indian father, Pollard was regularly subjected to racial hostility at a young age. But he was taught by his family to suppress his emotions in order to succeed in a mostly white neighborhood.
Pollard starred as a three-sport athlete at Lane Tech High School. While excelling in football and baseball, Pollard also earned honors as a three-time Cook Country track champion. He would play football briefly at nearby Northwestern, Harvard and Dartmouth before arriving at his future alma mater.