MILWAUKEE — The Fritz Pollard Alliance is trying to promote more African-American head coaches and executives in the NFL. During Black History Month, a Milwaukee writer and historian explains how Fritz Pollard had one big year with the Milwaukee Badgers.
"He became the first African-American head football coach with the Akron pro team in 1921," The Badgers: Milwaukee's NFL entry of 1922-1926 author Michael Benter says. "Left there, and came to Milwaukee in 1922."
Benter is well aware of Fritz Pollard's impact, along with the NFL Badgers of Milwaukee fame.
"A very diverse team," Benter says. "Probably a forerunner of the way the teams are set up now. Back then, however, there were very few minorities in the NFL. In fact on the Badger team, 1922, there were three African-Americans; one Native American, who was a co-coach with Pollard, Mr. Budge Garrett; and John Alexander, who was Jewish."
Still, Pollard needed to be tough to survive racism on the field.
"He used to do a bicycle kick on the ground when he would be tackled, to discourage people from piling on or spearing him after he was down," Benter says.
Today, Green Bay survives. But 100 years ago showed this is a football state.
"There was a team in Kenosha. There was a team in Racine, a pro team. There were actually, at one time, there were four pro teams in Wisconsin. It showed that this was a hotbed for professional football, even back then," Benter says. "That was one of their problems, with the Badgers, failure to beat the Packers. They played them I think ten times, and the best they could do was they had one tie."
Pollard was a pioneer with many firsts. Both in football, and life.
"He established coal delivery businesses in Chicago and New York City," Benter says. "A movie studio. He had a newspaper in New York City that was aimed for an African-American audience, the New York Independent News. He established the first Black securities firm in Chicago. He was really a national figure."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance is pushing for improvements. This past offseason, two of seven open head coaching positions went to minority candidates. And three of six open general manager jobs went to Black executives. But after the NFL had seven black head coaches in 2012, the fact that there are only three today shows there is much work to be done.