I’m currently working on a book that chronicles the life of the great Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard. Pollard preceded Jackie Robinson as a pioneer in the integration of team sports in the United States. Pollard was the first Black man to play in the Rose Bowl in 1916 as a player for Brown University. Fritz would later become the first Black quarterback and head coach calling signals and plays for the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football League (Later becoming the NFL) Pollard played in the NFL until 1926, when the league imposed an unwritten rule to segregate the league for the “safety” of Black players. Pollard was an advocate for the advancement of Blacks in the NFL until his passing in 1986. He was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in August, 2005.
This past Sunday during the NFC Divisional Playoff, I enjoyed a brief conversation with his grandson Fritz Pollard III. We talked about among other things, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton the NFL playoffs and the late Sean Taylor.
Ron Glover: Mr. Pollard, how are you today?
Fritz Pollard III: I’m doing well.
RG: What is your feeling about Tim Tebow and the extraordinary amount of press that he has received in relation to Black quarterbacks that have come along with the same skill set that have been vilified by the same media?
FP III: In my opinion, I don’t think he has the same skill set of a lot of other Black quarterbacks or other quarterbacks that are in the game right now. I think he has a tenacity to win at the end of the game. But as for qualities other than that, I don’t think he is as good a quarterback as a lot of these other quarterbacks like say… a Cam Newton for example, who set all these rookie records throwing the ball and running the ball. As far as Tebow it’s like they want to give him too much too early, it’s like they’re looking for that great white hope, and I don’t like that.
In some ways, it’s like we’ve come much farther than when my grandfather played but then if you also look, we’ve also gone backwards.
Just look at some of these announcers, a lot of them are former quarterbacks and they are predominantly white. There are many Blacks out there as well as ex-quarterbacks as well that can speak very well on the air, but we don’t see them on the air. That’s giving our young people something else that they can’t do, “I can’t play quarterback, I can’t do this.” It’s something else that’s put into the back of their minds.
RG: What is your assessment of Robert Griffin III?
FP III: He’s a decent player, but I haven’t seen him too much. I haven’t really seen him play.
RG: I would say that he has a lot of skills similar to Cam Newton but he’s a more accurate passer. Despite passing for more career yards and being very close in other statistics, Andrew Luck is everyone’s consensus #1 pick. Despite failing to win the Heisman Trophy two years in a row.
FP III: A lot of that is a PR thing and unfortunately a lot of minorities just do not support and they know this guy is better but they don’t pick up the phone and call and say that, “This guy is good”. And that’s one thing – we don’t support our people. And even though he (Luck) hasn’t won the Heisman Trophy, sportscasters are still talking about him who are predominantly white.
I’m not saying these sportscasters are prejudiced but I just think they’re used to supporting their own, and their own are white quarterbacks.
RG: In the days and weeks leading up to the draft we tend to learn more about the players family background. I remember the situation surrounding Dez Bryant’s mother a couple of years ago. Robert Griffin III comes from a solid military background, he’s very articulate and well spoken – but that is very rarely mentioned.
FP III: I think that people should be talking about it because it’s important for our young people to know from early on that it is important for them to come up in a stable environment.