Bill Belichick will honor one of the most important figures in football history when his New England Patriots open their 2020 season: Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard. The Patriots’ head coach will wear a visor with Pollard’s name on it when his team takes on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
After becoming the first black player at Brown University, and despite facing consistent discrimination, Pollard took his talents to the pros in 1920 — literally: he joined the Akron Pros as a running back in the newly formed American Professional Football Association that would later be renamed to become the NFL. Pollard helped Akron go undefeated in 1920 and win the league championship.
One year later, he became pro football’s first black head coach: serving as a player-coach, Pollard led the Pros to an 8-3-1 record. He continued his career as a player until 1928, when he helped establish the Chicago Black Hawks — an all-black team that did not join a pro league but played exhibition contests in Chicago.
The Black Hawks were not made to last, and the same was the case for an integrated NFL: black players were banned from the league from 1933 to 1945. However, Pollard continued to fight for black players by starting his own team, the Harlem Brown Bombers, in 1934. The club eventually folded in 1938, but Pollard’s legacy helped him earn the NFL’s highest individual honor in 2005 when he was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Pollard did not live to see his enshrinement, having passed away in 1986, but his impact on the game cannot be denied. Today, Bill Belichick is honoring Pollard’s legacy.
Belichick’s visor will look like this.