George Taliaferro, 1st Black Player Drafted In The NFL, Dies At 91

Oct 10, 2018
Originally published on October 10, 2018 6:37 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning, we are remembering a man who broke a barrier in the NFL. George Taliaferro died Monday at the age of 91.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Taliaferro was a football star at Indiana University, one of its then-rare African-American players. He routinely faced racism on and off the field. In 1949, he became the first black player ever drafted by the NFL. He was selected by the Chicago Bears.

MARTIN: There had been other black players in the earliest days of pro football. But as the audiences grew, the owners closed ranks and, by 1934, had squeezed out all of the black players. Taliaferro spoke about being selected by the Bears in a documentary produced by WTIU at Indiana University.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "INDIANA LEGENDS: GEORGE TALIAFERRO")

GEORGE TALIAFERRO: I understood precisely what it meant for me to be drafted because it meant that other African-American players had an opportunity that would have never been present.

GREENE: George Taliaferro never played for those Chicago Bears. Instead, he went for a rival football league to the NFL. He eventually joined the NFL, playing with a number of teams, finishing his career in 1955 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

MARTIN: For Taliaferro, playing football was about more than just a game. It was therapy.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "INDIANA LEGENDS: GEORGE TALIAFERRO")

TALIAFERRO: It allowed me to vent my frustrations with being discriminated against in the United States.

MARTIN: After football, Taliaferro got a master's degree from Howard University. And eventually, he went home, helping to lead Indiana University, where his journey began. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.