Chicago forgot about Fritz Pollard for a few decades, but that is starting to change.
On Saturday, Lane held a Fritz Pollard Day ceremony. There were politicians, famous Lane alumni and a nice crowd on hand to christen Lane’s football field as Fritz Pollard Field. Pollard’s name is now on Lane Stadium’s new scoreboard and four plaques highlighting his accomplishments adorn the stadium’s entrance.
“This means a whole lot to the family,” Pollard’s grandson Dr. Stephen Towns said. “People just aren’t really aware of the legacy. Hopefully this will be the impetus to get the story told.”
Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, a 1912 graduate of Lane, was a trailblazer with an impressive list of accomplishments. He starred in three sports at Lane, was the first Black head coach in the NFL, one of the first two Black players in the NFL, the first Black football player at Brown University and the first Black player in the Rose Bowl. He’s a member of the College and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Despite all that, Pollard’s name has basically been unknown in Chicago until the past few years. The path to Fritz Pollard Day started with 1984 Lane grad Ronald “Chip” Fisher. He was teaching a class on sports and race at the University of Texas in 2003 and came upon Pollard’s story. That set things in motion.
“This is a journey that is going to continue,” Fisher said. “Ultimately there should be a statue. The Chicago Bears should step up and provide some sort of resources. That’s our goal in the next four or five years. [Pollard’s story] affects everybody. It’s not just a Lane story. It’s a Chicago story and an American history story.”
BET’s Louis Carr, a 1974 Lane graduate, was the standout speaker at the ceremony, sharing with the high school students in attendance just how important the day was to him.
“I’ve been a part of some of the biggest events in the country,” Carr said. “I’ve been to the White House and met three presidents… I’ve had dinner with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Shawn “Puffy” Combs and I can tell you this is one of the most special moments of my entire career.”
Michelle Weiner, the president of Lane’s alumni association, spent years leading the drive towards Fritz Pollard Day.
“It’s such a joy to see this happen,” Weiner said. “We have five generations of alumni here today. This is my dream, to see community built.”
According to Weiner, there is a Chicago Public Schools rule that all outbuildings on a school’s campus must carry the school name. That’s why the field, not the stadium, was named for Pollard.
Towns said his grandfather, who died in 1986 at age 92, never complained about his lack of recognition. Pollard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously in 2005.
“He never blamed anybody,” Towns said. “He just did what he had to do. That’s a lot. When I think about all the stuff he went through and the family went through and no one ever complained.”
Later in life, Pollard founded a pro football team and started the New York Independent News, the first Black-owned tabloid in New York City. His son, Fritz Pollard, Jr., won a bronze medal in hurdles at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
“When you think about what [Pollard] did and when he did it, it was before civil rights,” Carr said. “It’s amazing that we stand here today to honor this very special person that has made such an impact on this school, this city and this country.”