This February, Sports Illustrated is celebrating Black History Month by spotlighting a different iconic athlete or group of athletes every day. Today, SI looks back on the legacy of George Taliaferro.
George Taliaferro became the first African-American player drafted by an NFL team when he was picked by the Chicago Bears in 1949.
Taliaferro was a standout, three-time All-American at Indiana University, leading the Hoosiers to their only undefeated season in program history. He was one of the best players in collegiate football and played several positions, including halfback, quarterback, defensive back and kicker.
The NFL had a long history of racial discrimination and Taliaferro felt he had no chance of being drafted. So he signed with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference for $4,000, which adjusted for inflation is more than $40,000 today.
Taliaferro was surprised when the Bears picked him in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL Draft, but he had a contract to honor. Chicago owner George Halas was reportedly disappointed by Taliferro’s decision and aired thoughts that reflected the discriminatory views NFL executives had about African-American players, saying that it was a shame Taliaferro didn’t join Chicago because he was the first African-American player “I’ve felt could make the team,” according to The New York Times.
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