1st Black player drafted by NFL in 1949

Fred Jeter | 4/29/2021, 6 p.m.
With the 129th pick of the 1949 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears made history by selecting George Taliaferro from Indiana ...
George Taliaferro

With the 129th pick of the 1949 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears made history by selecting George Taliaferro from Indiana University.

So what’s so historic about a 129th pick?

With that late pick, Taliaferro became the first African-American ever picked in the NFL’s annual draft that began in 1936.

When all the names are called in this year’s draft, which will be held virtually April 29 through May 1, at least half the athletes selected will be Black.

But there has to be a first for everything, and Taliaferro, who grew up in Gary, Ind., got the oblong ball rolling in 1949.

As it turned out, Taliaferro passed on the Bears’ offer, opting to sign with the Los Angeles Dons of the rival All-American Football Conference. The leagues merged in 1950 with the Dons combining players with the Los Angeles Rams.

Among the most versatile athletes in pro football annals, Taliaferro played, from time to time, halfback, quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back, punter and kick returner.

He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection at various positions. Taliaferro played for the Dons, the New York Yanks, the Dallas Texans, the Baltimore Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles. He never played for the Bears.

As the first Black athlete at Indiana University, he was a three-time All-American. In 1981, he was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He died in 2018 at age 91.

Taliaferro wasn’t the only Black draftee in 1949. In the NFL’s 19th round the Detroit Lions plucked Wallace “Wally” Triplett out of Penn State University.

Wally Triplett

Wally Triplett

In 1950, Triplett returned kicks (kickoffs, punts combined) for what was then a record 294 yards for the Detroit Lions against the Los Angeles Rams.

Triplett grew up in the upscale, mostly white Philadelphia suburb of La Mott, Penn., and was offered a football scholarship to the University of Miami in Florida. When then-segregated Miami discovered he was Black, the offer was withdrawn.

Triplett then attended Penn State instead. Coincidentally, in 1946, Penn State forfeited a game at Miami in part because of Triplett and the Nittany Lions’ other Black player, Dennis Hoggard. Miami officials said the team would only play if Penn State left its Black players behind. Penn State forfeited the game rather than accept that restriction.

Also in 1949, Paul “Tank” Younger of Grambling University, who was voted Black College Football Player of the Year as a senior, was not drafted. But he didn’t let that stop him from a significant NFL career.


Paul "Tank" Younger

Signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Rams in 1949, Younger went on to score 35 touchdowns, rush for 3,640 yards and catch passes for 1,167 yards in a 10-year career. He was a four-time Pro Bowl pick.

Younger was the first NFL player from an HBCU and first Black NFL All-Star. He also became the league’s first Black assistant general manager in 1975 with the San Diego Chargers.

The very first Black players to compete in the NFL were free agents Kenny Washington and Woody Strode with the Los Angeles Rams in 1947. Both had starred years

earlier at UCLA. Washington was 28 when he played his first NFL game and Strode was 32. Each had played previously for the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast League and other minor league outfits.