The 1916 Brown Bears football team with Fritz Pollard, far left second row. (Courtesy Brown University Archives)

ASN HEROES OF BLACK HISTORY | Brown's Fritz Pollard set standard for breaking barriers

In commemoration of Black History Month, we will honor the legacy of African-American athletes from ASN's family of schools throughout February. Today: Brown's Fritz Pollard.

The first African-American to play in the Rose Bowl did not lead Brown to victory.

In fact, Frederick Douglas "Fritz" Pollard was held to 47 yards on 13 carries in the Bears' 14-0 loss to Washington State on Jan. 1, 1916.

But his performance marked the first of many firsts by an athlete considered one of the greatest in Brown history, therefore the moment is judged the greatest in Brown sports history.

Despite their 5-3-1 record in 1915, the Bears were selected by the Tournament of Roses committee as the Eastern representative by virtue of their victories against Yale (3-0) and Carlisle (39-3).

The following season, Pollard — nicknamed “the human torpedo” — scored 12 touchdowns and led Brown to an 8-1 record with victories against Yale and Harvard. Pollard scored on a 60-yard run against Yale, and runs of 47, 35, 34 yards against Harvard as the Bears became the first team to beat both in the same season.

Also that season, Pollard became the first African-American backfield player named to the Walter Camp All-America Team.

He also became the first black player on a championship team (1920), the first black coach (1921) and first black quarterback (1923) in the formative days of the NFL.

"He was a pioneer, and you can’t measure that in statistics," former NFL head coach Tony Dungy told Brown's Alumni Magazine in 2005. "We know a lot about Jackie Robinson. Fritz Pollard did a lot of the same things in the game of football, but we don’t know as much about him."

After his playing career, the alumni magazine noted, Pollard was a dental student, a college football coach, a founder of one of the first African American–owned investment firms, the owner of a coal business, a movie actor, a founder and operator of an African-American independent pro football team, a newspaper founder and owner, a syndicated sports columnist, a movie studio owner, a Negro League baseball executive, a music video producer, a talent agent, a movie producer, the founder of a public relations firm, and, finally, a tax consultant.

In 1954, he was the first African-American elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2015.

His name lives on through the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which was founded in 2003 to help promote the hiring of minorities in the NFL.

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