NFL milestones by Black players, coaches, executives and officials

Cleveland fullback Marion Motley
Cleveland’s Marion Motley is tackled by the Rams’ Paul Younger during a 1950 game. Both men set milestones for Black players in the NFL.

Firsts by African Americans in the modern era of the NFL (post-World War II), according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame:


First African American drafted by NFL club

George Taliaferro of the New York Yanks in 1950
George Taliaferro
(Murray Becker / Associated Press)

George Taliaferro, halfback (Indiana). Picked by Chicago Bears in 13th round of 1949 draft but elected to sign with the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC. Played with the Dons 1949; New York Yanks 1950-51; Dallas 1952; Baltimore 1953-54; Philadelphia 1955.


First African American draftee to play in NFL

Wally Triplett in 1953 during his second year with Chicago Cardinals and fourth year in the NFL.
Wally Triplett
(Associated Press)



Wally Triplett, halfback (Penn State). Picked by the Detroit Lions in 19th round of 1949 draft. Played with Detroit 1949-1950; Chicago Cardinals 1952-53.


First star from a predominantly African American college

Cleveland fullback Marion Motley is tackled by Rams halfback Paul Younger
Paul Younger
(Associated Press)

Paul “Tank” Younger, fullback/ linebacker (Grambling). L.A. Rams 1949-1957; Pittsburgh 1958.


First African American quarterback

Willie Thrower
(Twitter / @NFL)

Willie Thrower (Michigan State), Chicago Bears 1953.


First African American official

Burl Toler
(Associated Press)


Burl Toler (University of San Francisco), field judge/head linesman, 1965-89.


First African American referee

Miami Dolphins' quarterback Dan Marino (13) argues with referee Johnny Grier
Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino (13) argues with referee Johnny Grier.
(Lois Bernstein / Associated Press)

Johnny Grier (University of D.C.), 1988.


First pros from predominantly African American schools

Ezzret Anderson, end (Kentucky State), Los Angeles Dons (AAFC), 1947; John Brown, center (North Carolina College), Los Angeles Dons (AAFC), 1947; Elmore Harris, halfback (Morgan State), Brooklyn, 1947.


First African American lineman to win all-league honors

Bill Willis , shown during his Ohio State days
Bill Willis
(Associated Press)

AAFC—Bill Willis, guard (Ohio State), Cleveland, 1946; NFL—Bill Willis, guard, Cleveland, 1950.


First African American back to win all-league honors

Cleveland Browns fullback Marion Motley with his two sons Ronald and Raymond
Cleveland Browns fullback Marion Motley with sons Ronald and Raymond
(Harold Valentine / Associated Press)

AAFC—Marion Motley, fullback (South Carolina State; Nevada), Cleveland, 1946; NFL—Marion Motley, fullback, Cleveland, 1950.


First African American to win individual league statistical championship

Cleveland Browns fullback Marion Motley (76)
Cleveland Browns fullback Marion Motley (76)
(Associated Press)

AAFC—Marion Motley, fullback. Cleveland, 1946 (rushing); NFL—Marion Motley, fullback, Cleveland, 1950 (rushing).



First African American elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

Emlen Tunnell
Emlen Tunnell
(Associated Press)

Emlen Tunnell, defensive back (Iowa), New York Giants 1949-1958, Green Bay 1959-1961: elected 1967.


First African American starting quarterback in a Super Bowl

Washington quarterback Doug Williams is surrounded by members of the media after Super Bowl XXII.
Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams
(Associated Press)

Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII (following the 1987 season).


First African American general manager

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome
(Gail Burton / Associated Press)

Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens, 2002.


First African American referee in a Super Bowl

Referee Mike Carey makes a call
Referee Mike Carey
(Tom Gannam / Associated Press)

Mike Carey, Super Bowl XLII.


First African American head coach

Fritz Pollard, shown in 1975
(Associated Press)

Fritz Pollard, 1921 Akron, 1925 Hammond.



First African American head coach, modern era

Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell in 2006
Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell
(Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

Art Shell, 1989 Los Angeles Raiders.


First African American assistant coach

Lowell Perry
(Associated Press)

Lowell Perry, 1957 Pittsburgh Steelers.


First African American head coach to take team to Super Bowl

Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts
Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy
(Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Lovie Smith, 2006 Chicago Bears; Tony Dungy, 2006 Indianapolis Colts.