Fritz Pollard breaks color barrier in professional football. Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Bill Willis and Marion Motley reintegrate the NFL.
Pollard, a Black man, begins his professional football career in 1919, joining the Akron Pros. Two years later in 1921, he becomes the first Black coach in NFL history after being named co-coach of the team. In 1923, Pollard becomes the first Black quarterback in the league’s history as a member of the Hammond Pros. After Pollard leaves the game, NFL owners refuse to sign Black players until 1946, when the Los Angeles Coliseum threatens not to host Los Angeles Rams home games unless the team signs an African American player. It was then that the Rams sign UCLA standouts Washington and Strode. Willis and Motley, two future Hall of Famers, would join the Cleveland Browns later that year. In 2005, Pollard is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Walter Achiu becomes first Asian to play in the NFL
Achiu makes it to the NFL in 1927, becoming the first known person of East Asian heritage to play in an NFL game. While he plays sparingly for the Dayton Triangles, Achiu is considered one of the greatest athletes to come through Dayton, where he is in the Athletic Hall of Fame at Dayton University. The running back becomes an All-American honorable mention at the school, and the local newspaper calls him one of the most popular players on the team. At Dayton, he also stars in baseball, track and wrestling, and he goes onto a professional wrestling career that goes until the 1950s.
First Samoan athlete plays in the NFL
As an offensive lineman for Washington, Al Lolotai is the first Samoan to play in the NFL.
AFL All Star Game is moved from New Orleans to Houston.
After African American AFL players were confronted with discriminatory treatment on their arrival to New Orleans for the AFL All Star game, players refuses to play the game in city and it was ultimately moved to Houston, Texas.
Marlin Briscoe becomes the first African-American Quarterback in modern-era football
Marlin Briscoe becomes the first African-American Quarterback in modern-era football.
Tom Flores becomes the first Hispanic coach to win the Super Bowl
The Oakland Raiders’ Flores becomes the first minority and Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl as the Raiders defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Three seasons later, Flores would win a second Super Bowl. Before coaching, Flores in 1960 becomes the first Hispanic quarterback to start for a professional football team, starting for the Raiders.
Doug Williams overcomes racism to make NFL history, blaze trail for future quarterbacks
In 1978, Williams becomes the first Black quarterback to be drafted in the first round, coming out of Grambling State University, a historically Black college. Throughout his career, Williams faces racism from NFL fans as well as from the team that drafted him, the Buccaneers. After being forced out of the NFL for a few years, Williams signs with Washington and eventually leads the team in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, which Washington wins in a 42-10 route behind Williams’ play. Williams, who is now a senior adviser for Washington and co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, blazes a trail for the next generation of Black quarterbacks. Entering the 2021 season, four of the five highest-paid players in the NFL, three of the past six MVPs and the past two passing yardage leaders are Black quarterbacks.
Los Angeles Raiders name first Black head coach in modern NFL history
After a slow start to the 1989 season, Raiders owner Al Davis promotes Art Shell to the team’s head coaching position, making him the first Black NFL head coach since Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. In six seasons from 1989-1994, Shell finishes with a winning record five times and makes the playoffs three times, including an AFC Championship Game appearance. Shell goes 54-38 during that span, and in 2006, he returns as coach of the Raiders for one season. Diversity and equity in hiring continues to be an issue more than 30 years later, however. Entering the 2021 season, only three of the league’s 32 coaches are Black.
The NFL establishes the Rooney Rule
Named after Dan Rooney, the chairman and president of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former chairman of the league’s diversity committee, the NFL institutes the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions. At the time the rule was created, only seven minority candidates had been head coaches in NFL history. In 2020, the rule is amended to require teams to interview at least two minority candidates from outside their organization for any vacant head-coaching job and at least one minority candidate from outside their organization for any vacant offensive, defensive or special-teams coordinator job. Additionally, it is expanded to include a requirement that teams and the league office interview minority and/or female applicants for executive-level positions.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL work with developers to reopen the New Orleans Superdome in record time–a year after Hurricane Katrina
Defeating the Atlanta Falcons in their first home game since Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints reached across racial, and socioeconomic lines to bring together a City that was ravaged by the deadliest hurricane the U.S. had ever seen.
Indianapolis Colts’ head coach becomes first African-American to win Super Bowl
Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy, becomes the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl Championship as the Colts defeat the Chicago Bears.
First Chinese American drafted into NFL
Ed Wang is drafted by the Buffalo Bills, becoming the first Chinese American to be drafted into the NFL.
St. Louis Rams players show solidarity in support of unarmed teen killed by a Ferguson police officer
Following the Aug. 2014 death of 18-year old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, St. Louis Rams players Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt come out of the tunnel for team introductions with their hands raised in reportedly the same fashion as Brown just before he was killed. The pose is a symbol for nationwide protests as activists yelled “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Colin Kaepernick protests during the national anthem
In response to police shootings and brutality against people of color, including the 2015 killing of Mario Woods by San Francisco police, Kaepernick first takes a knee during the national anthem before a 2016 preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. He chooses to kneel instead of sit during the anthem to show respect for the military, after speaking with former NFL player and U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer. His act of protest to bring attention to police brutality and oppression of people of color continues throughout the 2016 season. Of his protest, Kaepernick said “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” Kaepernick has not played in an NFL game since the end of the 2016 season.
Police, firefighters and military join Cleveland Browns for National Anthem
Browns players ran out of the tunnel prior to their game against the Steelers accompanied by police, firefighters and EMTs. They also stood together during the playing of the national anthem, joined by ownership and team executives, and the Browns ran a video with the theme of unity prior to the anthem.
The NFL and Players Coalition launch Inspire Change initiative
The NFL and Players Coalition announce the launch of the Inspire Change initiative, which showcases the collaborative efforts of players, owners and the league to create positive change in communities across the country. Working together with the Players Coalition, NFL teams and the league office continue supporting programs and initiatives reducing barriers to opportunity, with a focus on three priority areas: education and economic advancement, police and community relations and criminal justice reform.
Kyler Murray is the No. 1 NFL draft pick
A first-round pick in baseball, Murray opts to follow his heart and pursue football, eventually becoming the No. 1 overall pick, a Pro Bowler and Rookie of the Year winner. Murray’s maternal grandmother is South Korean, and in 2021 Murray said he continues to pursue learning more about his Asian heritage. As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Murray and his mother made the calculated choice to wear a black, dragon-print kimono jacket before and after a game. “When we saw the jacket it was like, ‘Gotta have it,’” Missy Murray, Kyler’s mother, told The Oklahoman. “Cause we’re all about representing our Asian culture. I know a lot of people are like, ‘What is he?’ I get asked that a lot myself. So we do subtle things to represent that. That subtle statement he made on Saturday came across as kind of a strong statement, but it’s awesome.”
NFL stars share video demanding league condemns racism and support player protests
In the passionate video, players such as Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, among others, relay how not only could they have been George Floyd, but they are Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and the many other Black men, women and children killed. They also demand the NFL state that it condemns “racism and the systemic oppression of black people,” admit it was wrong to silence players from peacefully protesting and believe black lives matter. The following day, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a video and statement, saying those exact words: “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.” Goodell later said he wants to be part of the much-needed change in America, and apologized to Colin Kaepernick for the league’s handling of his protests in 2016.
To see the video, click here.
NFL’s Washington club announces retirement of racist team name and logo; MLB’s Cleveland club does the same.
Dozens of Native American groups, tribal nations, national tribal organizations, individuals and civil rights group have protested Washington’s 87-year-old team mascot and asked for its removal dating back more than a half-century. Washington owner Dan Snyder said he would never change the logo and team name – a racist slur toward Native Americans – but corporate pressure in 2020 forces him to retire them. Top team sponsor FedEx says it will terminate its stadium naming rights deal, worth an additional $45 million, if Snyder did not change the team name. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America, make similar demands. Since known as the Washington Football Team, the club on February 2, 2022 officially becomes the Washington Commanders. In 2018, MLB’s Cleveland club, facing similar backlash for its team name and mascot, announces it will retire its “Chief Wahoo” logo for the 2019 season, and in December 2020 says it will change the team’s nickname for the 2022 season. In July 2021, they reveal their new name, the Cleveland Guardians.
Jason Wright, Danita Johnson, Kim Ng and Dany Garcia break barriers across leagues
The Washington Football Team hired Wright, a former NFL running back, as team president, making him the first Black person to hold that position in the NFL’s 100-year history. Wright was named Sports Business Journal’s “Best Hire of 2020.” In December, Johnson became the first Black woman or man to be hired as an MLS team president when D.C. United hired her as president of business operations. She previously was president and COO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In November, the Marlins hired Ng as the team’s general manager, making her the first woman to hold that position. Ng was MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the past nine years and the highest-ranking Asian American female baseball executive. In August, Garcia became the first woman to own a professional sports league. Garcia, entertainer Dwayne Johnson and a private equity firm puchased the XFL, and Johnson wrote that Garcia was the “architect” behind the deal.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
Sarah Thomas becomes first woman to officiate a Super Bowl, and Maia Chaka becomes first Black female NFL official
Since becoming the first permanent official in NFL history in 2015, Thomas has worked full time in the league. In February 2021, she adds another milestone in a career full of glass ceilings being shattered: Thomas is an on-field official for Super Bowl LV . Thomas is also the first woman to officiate a major college football game (2006), the first woman to officiate a bowl game (2009) and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium (2011). Chaka also makes history in March 2021. Seven years after she joins the NFL’s officiating development program, Chaka becomes the league’s first Black female official. “I just want [young girls] to know if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” she said.
Coach Maral Javadifar and Coach Lori Locust of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become first female coaches to win the Super Bowl
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make history in 2019 when they become the first NFL team to have two full-time female coaches on staff. In 2021, the diverse coaching staff led to the team’s second Super Bowl win at Super Bowl LV. The defensive line, which Locust helps coach, is the standout group from the game as they hit and harrassed former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes all evening.
Athletes rally to stop Asian hate after Atlanta shootings
On March 16, a white gunman commits a series of mass shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The shooting reflects a long history of racism and sexism toward Asians and specifically Asian women, as well as reflecting the rapid rise in violent hate crimes rooted in racism from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day following the shooting, there’s an outpouring of support from athletes and teams across the country. LeBron James, Chiney Ogwumike, the Portland Trailblazers, Jeremy Lin, Steve Kerr, Trae Young were among the many within the NBA to speak out against the shooting and rise in racism. Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, a South Korean American, writes on his social media: “As an Asian American, I have heard the jokes and name calling. I often dealt with it by ignoring what was said and minding my own business. I don’t have all the answers, but I realize now more than ever that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and that ignoring it won’t help us do that. I know this one post won’t solve the problem, but I hope to help raise awareness on hate crimes against all. #stophate”
Juneteenth recognized as federal holiday
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, leagues, teams and athletes across professional sports widley recognize and celebrate Juneteenth — the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Leagues such as the NBA and NFL and teams such as the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and MLS’ Real Salt Lake leverage their platforms to engage in conversations on racism and social justice and provide resources to fans on how they can further their education around issues of race and support the Black community. Momentum builds and one year later, in June 2021, President Joe Biden signs a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Women in the NFL Break Barriers
In December 2021, Washington’s Jennifer King, the team’s assistant running backs coach, becomes the first Black woman to serve as a lead position coach in an NFL game. King, who starts as a coaching intern under coach Ron Rivera, makes history in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. In February 2021, Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust become the first female coaches to win the Super Bowl when they help lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl LV. In that same game, Sarah Thomas, the league’s first female official, becomes the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. In March 2021, Maia Chaka becomes the league’s first Black female official seven years after she joins the NFL’s officiating development program. “I just want [young girls] to know if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” she said.