Teaching Students About the Negro Football League


The Negro Football League (NFL) was an important part of African American history and sports culture. It provided opportunities for black athletes to showcase their talent and compete at a high level in a time when racial segregation was rampant. As educators, it’s essential to teach students about this often overlooked period in sports history to honor the determination, resilience, and accomplishments of these exceptional athletes.


The NFL was first established in 1902 as a response to segregation in professional football. The league was made up of all-black teams that competed against each other and occasionally against white teams, though the latter was rare. The league lasted until 1946 when it merged with an integrated league, paving the way for African American players to participate in mainstream professional football.

Key Figures

There were several notable figures associated with the Negro Football League who are worth mentioning when teaching students about its history:

1. Charles Follis:

Known as the “Black Cyclone,” Follis was the first black professional football player in America. He played for the Shelby Blues and later became a coach.

2. Fritz Pollard:

Pollard overcame considerable racial barriers to become one of the first black players in the NFL, eventually becoming a coach as well.

3. Paul Robeson: 

An accomplished scholar, athlete, actor, and activist, Robeson showcased his athletic prowess while playing for various NFL teams.

Contributions to Football and Society

The Negro Football League made numerous tangible and intangible contributions to both football and society during its time. The league helped:

1. Break down racial barriers: African American players proved that they were just as talented as their white counterparts, challenging racist notions prevalent during that time.

2. Inspire future generations: As black athletes could play professionally, younger generations became inspired by their achievements on the field, setting up a foundation for continued progress in civil rights and sports opportunities.

3. Develop stars for the integrated league: Many NFL players went on to have successful careers in the integrated professional leagues, highlighting the significance of the Negro Football League in shaping American football history.

Teaching Strategies

Here are a few tips on how to teach students about the Negro Football League effectively:

1. Organize a virtual field trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which celebrates the history of the Negro Football League.

2. Encourage students to research and present biographies of key figures from this era, focusing on both their athletic accomplishments and societal contributions.

3. Use films, documentaries, and historical texts to create an engaging curriculum that covers not only sports history but also socio-political aspects related to racism and civil rights movements.


By teaching students about the Negro Football League, we can not only honor these trailblazing athletes but also spark meaningful conversations about race, resilience, and empowerment. Through understanding this crucial chapter in sports history, students can appreciate African American contributions to American society while learning essential lessons about overcoming adversity in the face of injustice.

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