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George Taliaferro, First African-American Player Picked in NFL Draft, Passes Away At 91

Sports Illustrated reports that one of the forgotten trailblazers of sports, George Taliaferro, has passed away on Monday night at the age of 91. Taliaferro will always have his name in the record books for being the first African-American player chosen in the NFL draft.

Taliaferro’s football career got started as a three-time All-American running back at Indiana, and is notable for being part of the legendary 1945 team, which was the first to go undefeated in the history of the program. When the Chicago Bears picked him in the 13th round of the NFL Draft, he also became the first black player to have this honor. However, he opted to play for Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference. After entering the NFL in 1950, Taliaferro would also play for the New York Yanks, Dallas Texans, Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.

Sports Illustrated shares that Taliaferro was a three-time Pro Bowler from 1951–1953. He finished his time in the league with 2,266 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. He also recorded 1,300 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions. Notably, he built up these stats playing seven different positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back, punter, kick returner and punt returner.

“I’m the one person in the history of the NFL to play seven positions,” Taliaferro told Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated in September 2017. “When I went on the field, the game was over when I came off.” After retiring, he would go on to teach at the University of Maryland and Indiana University and was Dean of Students at Morgan State.

One of the names who paid tribute to Taliaferro was Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who put out the following tweet: “Rest in peace, George Taliaferro. Not only 1st African-American drafted into NFL, but also league’s 2nd African-American QB. A trailblazer and true gentleman, George graced us with his presence at a recent home game. One of our last connections to pro football of the ’40s/50s.”

Indiana University president Michael McRobbie said in a press release that Taliaferro “was a true trailblazer in every sense of the word and an individual of the greatest integrity, whose impact will be forever felt at IU and throughout the Hoosier state.”

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