NFL Pioneer George Taliaferro Passes At Age 91

The Gary, Indiana native was the first African-American drafted into the NFL in 1949.

George Taliaferro, the first African-American ever drafted by an NFL team and an All-American at Indiana University has died at age 91. 

The Chicago Bears picked him in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL draft, and Taliaferro played from 1949-55 with franchises in both the old NFL, and the All-America Football Conference.

Overall, he played seven seasons of pro football, six in the NFL with New York, Dallas, Baltimore and Philadelphia, three times making the Pro Bowl. He became a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Baltimore, advised prisoners adjusting to society upon their release, got his master’s in social work at Howard University, taught at Maryland, was dean of students at Morgan State, returned to Indiana as a professor and special assistant to IU president John Ryan, and helped start Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana in Bloomington.

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George Taliaferro, an All-American at Indiana and a trailblazer for African-Americans in football, has died. He was 91. (via @indystar)

He was the epitome of a game changer and a relentless force in the African-American struggle for equality. 

Taliaferro is an American trailblazer who endured great racial discrimination to become the cornerstone of the 1945 Indiana football team and led the program to its only undefeated season in history as a starting running back. Despite being alienated from the team in every aspect of off the field life, Taliaferro was able to endure the setbacks, gain the respect of his teammates and establish himself as a leader on the field. 

From Gregg Doyel 2015 column on Taliaferro’s amazing life:

When he reported to IU in 1945 he couldn’t swim in the pool, live in the dorm or eat in the cafeteria. He could attend movies, but only on weekends, and only if he sat in the balcony, away from the white people.

“I couldn’t do … anything … on … campus but attend class and play football,” he says.

George called his father in 1945 and told Robert Taliaferro he was coming home to Gary, maybe to work alongside his father in the tin mill at the US Steel Corp. A few years earlier, when George was still at Gary Roosevelt High, he told his father — a foreman at the tin mill — that he wanted to be just like him.

“Then you should cross your arms across your chest and lie down and die,” Robert told him. “Because I never had the kinds of opportunities that you are going to have.”

George Taliaferro: Hoosier Legend

This is a documentary about Indiana football legend George Taliaferro.

If not for the bigoted culture towards Blacks playing quarterback, Taliaferro may have been a fine one at the pro level. While at Indiana, Taliaferro led the Hoosiers in passing, rushing and punting during different seasons. Among his many accomplishments, Taliaferro became the first African-American to lead the Big Ten in rushing, in 1945, and he helped that IU team finish 9-0-1. 

Taliaferro is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and should be remembered as the Jackie Robinson of college football.

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