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Fritz Pollard
(1894-1986)

The first African American coach in the National Football League. On February 5, 2005, Mr. Pollard was selected for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard was the first African American coach in the National Football League.

“Fritz” Pollard grew up in Chicago. By the time he graduated from high school, he was a talented baseball player, running back and a three-time Cook County track champion. He briefly played football for Northwestern, Harvard and Dartmouth before receiving a scholarship from the Rockefeller family to attend Brown University in 1915.

It was here where Pollard led his squad to the 1915 Rose Bowl game. He was the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl, and the second to be named an All-American in college football. After leaving Brown, Pollard briefly pursued a degree in dentistry, worked as director of an army YMCA, and coached football at Lincoln University.

Pollard signed to play for the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and led Akron to a championship in 1920. He was named head coach in 1921 and continued to play for the Pros as well. The APFA was renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922, making Pollard the first African American coach in NFL history.

Pollard went on to coach NFL teams in Indiana and Milwaukee until 1926 when the National Football League ousted all black players and coaches in a fateful decision to segregate. Pollard created a black football team and challenged NFL teams to exhibition games, but was rebuffed. He spent many years urging the NFL to open its doors to African Americans. He retired from football in 1937 to pursue a career in business. The NFL ban on players of color started to lift in 1946 after World War II ended, but not all teams were integrated until Bobby Mitchell joined the Washington Redskins in 1962.

Mr. Pollard passed away in 1986, three years before the Oakland Raiders named Art Shell, the first African-American head coach in the NFL’s modern era, as their head football coach in 1989.

On February 5, 2005, Mr. Pollard was selected for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.

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Johnnie L. Cochran
(1937-2005)

Co-authored the groundbreaking report in 2002 revealing that black NFL head coaches are held to a higher standard than their white counterparts.

Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. is recognized as an outstanding trial lawyer, civil libertarian and philanthropist throughout the world. In 1966, he founded the law firm of Cochran, Atkins and Evans, and earned a reputation as an outstanding trial lawyer. In 1981 after a stint as prosecutor, he returned to private practice under the firm name, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., Inc. He is the only attorney, ever, in Los Angeles, to receive both the “Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year” Award and the “Civil Trial Lawyer of the Year” Award. Over the years he continued to negotiate record settlements, including a settlement for $7.125 million dollars for Abner Louima. Mr. Cochran’s national law firm of Cochran, Cherry, Givens & Smith, P.C. is America’s largest plaintiff tort law firm. The firm now has offices in several states with dozens of lawyers devoted to civil trial litigation. Mr. Cochran, along with his new partners, have been recognized by the renowned legal publication, The National Law Journal, as an outstanding trial lawyer. Mr. Cochran attended more than thirty Super Bowls during his life and was a fan of the Rams and the Raiders. Mr. Cochran also received countless awards for his service to the community and his unparalleled skill as a trial lawyer.

Cochran partnered with Cyrus Mehri as co-author of the 2002 report titled Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities.

Mr. Cochran passed away on March 29, 2005. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Dale Mason Cochran, his father, Johnnie L. Cochran, Sr. and three children, Melodie, Tiffany and Jonathan.

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PAUL "TANK" YOUNGER
(1928-2001)

THE FIRST PLAYER IN THE NFL FROM A HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGE AND THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO BECOME A FRONT OFFICE EXECUTIVE IN THE NFL.

Paul “Tank” Younger was the first player in the NFL from a Historically Black College, a graduate of Grambling State University, and the first African American to become a front office executive in the NFL.

Paul Younger started at Grambling at tackle, but it didn’t take young coach Eddie Robinson long to see that Younger’s size and quickness were better suited for the backfield. There, he earned the nickname “Tank” by running over everything that got in front of him. “Tank” was Grambling’s leader on offense and defense. A record-setting career in the backfield and at linebacker earned him a spot on the 1948 Pittsburgh Courier All-America team.

As a freshman, Younger led the nation in scoring with 25 touchdowns, scoring many times on an end-around play. In his junior year, he rushed for 1,207 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Younger also completed 43 of 73 pass attempts, 11 for touchdowns. His career totals show 60 touchdowns, which, at the time, was a collegiate record. After his senior season, he was named Black College Football’s Player of the Year. After college, he was not drafted to play professionally. He became a free agent, signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1949, and opened the door to a new talent source, becoming the first player in the NFL from a Historically Black College.

Younger had a very successful NFL career with the Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers, earning Pro Bowl status five times. He was a member of the Rams’ renowned “Bull Elephant” backfield (Dan Towler, Dick Hoener) from 1949-57 and is the sixth-leading rusher in Rams’ history. He became the first black player to play in an NFL All-Star Game and, after his playing days, went on to become the League’s first black assistant general manager and front office executive. He served as a front-office scout and executive with the Rams until 1975 and Assistant General Manager with San Diego until 1987 and returned to the Rams before retiring in 1995. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Paul Younger died in August of 2001 at the age of 73 and is survived by wife Lucille; son Howard; and two daughters, Harriette and Lucy.

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JAKI LEE
(1953-2010) 

JAKI LEE WORKED WITH SOME OF THE TOP LAW FIRMS  IN THE COUNTRY, BUT NONE COMPARED TO HER WORK AS ONE OF THE FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE FRITZ POLLARD ALLIANCE FOUNDATION.

 Jacqueline “Jaki” Vilinia Fiddermon-Lee was born in January of 1953, the second of nine children to the late Roger Lee Fiddermon and Florence Rebecca Allen Fiddermon of Snow Hill, Maryland.

Jaki and her family lived in Atlantic and Elmira, New York back returned to Stockton, Maryland. It was there that she completed her primary education. An avid reader and naturally inquisitive, Jaki was an excellent student and won many academic awards including scholarships to college.  With her cheerful disposition and friendly manner, Jaki was easily able to make friends and was well thought of by her classmates.

Jaki began her adulthood by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and after completing her basic training at Parris Island, she was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, as the Vietnam War was ending. Jaki later became a legal secretary and excelled in her position. She  worked with some of the top law firms in the country, but none compared to her work as one of the founding members of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation. Working closely with the NFL allowed Jaki to shine in a new light that suited her well. Her excitement and enthusiasm were present in every aspect of her work, from creating the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Salute to Excellence Awards to planning and attending the organization’s events.

On Monday, June 14, 2010 our Lord and Savior called to his precious daughter, Jacqueline Vilinia Fiddermon-Lee, to lay down her earthly burdens and come home. A devoted and loving daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, wife and friend, there are no words to express how greatly she will be missed by all who were blessed to know such a special woman.

THE “FPAF” FAMILY WILL TRULY MISS JAKI

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DANIEL M. ROONEY
(1932-2017)

The oldest of Art Rooney Sr.’s five sons, Dan was born in Pittsburgh on July 20, 1932, in Mercy Hospital, which always was a point of pride for him for three reasons: because that made him “the first Rooney to be born in a hospital,” because the Sisters of Mercy came from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s to care for the people of Pittsburgh, and because Mercy Hospital was the first hospital built west of the Allegheny Mountains. He would go on to graduate from North Catholic High School in 1950 and then from Duquesne University in 1955, both of which were located within the City of Pittsburgh limits.

Before Dan was of legal age in Pennsylvania, he had thrown himself into the business of professional football. He negotiated contracts while still a student at Duquesne, and when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting, he began his official duties with the team.

For much of the ensuing decade, Dan served the Steelers in a variety of roles, from designing game program covers to scheduling the halftime entertainment, but it wasn’t until the mid-to-late-1960s that his influence extended into what now would be known as football operations. Starting in 1957, the Steelers were coached by Buddy Parker, who had won a couple of championships with the Detroit Lions and was known to overreact to losses by haphazardly trading or cutting players.

After a 1964 season in which the Steelers finished 5-9, Dan informed Buddy Parker he was forbidden to cut or trade any more players without approval. During the 1965 preseason, Parker tested the young executive and delivered an ultimatum – that either he as the coach had final say on all football matters or he would resign. Dan ultimately accepted Parker’s resignation, and a new era had dawned for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After standing up to Parker, Dan would be involved in the hiring of three Steelers coaches – Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin – and all of those men have taken the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship during a combined tenure that currently spans 49 years, and counting.

In addition to guiding the Steelers from the dark ages into a renaissance on the field, Dan also was very instrumental in doing similar things for the NFL. In 1973 he was named Chairman of the League’s Expansion Committee that added Seattle and Tampa Bay to the NFL, in 1976 he was named Chairman of the Negotiating Committee, and he also served on the eight-person Management Council Executive Committee, the Hall of Fame Committee, the NFL Properties Executive Committee, and the Player/Club Operations Committee.

Dan was instrumental in the formation of the system of free agency tied to a salary cap that was instituted by the NFL in 1993 and has become a model for professional sports leagues around the globe.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2000, and at that time he and his father, Art Rooney Sr., joined Tim Mara and Wellington Mara as the only two father-son combinations in Canton.

The family patriarch, Art Rooney Sr., long was an advocate of the players forming a union to secure a pension for their life after football. This respect for the players and the interest in their well-being was passed from father to son, and it came to pass that whenever there was a work stoppage or any other type of labor issue that arose in the NFL, Dan Rooney always was one of the consensus-builders in the room.

Dan worked tirelessly through many such negotiations with the NFLPA over different versions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and his deft touch in otherwise touchy matters became valuable during the time that he co-founded The American Ireland Fund to help bring peace and charity to Ireland. The Fund raised well over $300 million for peace and educational programs, according to Raymond H. Frye, who was the president of the selection committee that presented Dan Rooney with the John F. Kennedy Award in 2010.

Along with his love and dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL, Dan also dedicated himself to his community. He was a board member for The United Way of America, The American Ireland Fund, The American Diabetes Association, The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the Extra Mile Foundation, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In February 2000, Dan Rooney was recognized by the prestigious Maxwell Football Club in Philadelphia with the Francis “Reds” Bagnell Award for “contributions to the game of football.”

Then after his Steelers won a sixth Super Bowl championship, Dan Rooney answered a call to serve his president. On March 17, 2009 – St. Patrick’s Day, no less – President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Dan Rooney as the U. S. Ambassador to Ireland.

And with that, Dan left his beloved Steelers and the National Football League for a career in foreign service and another love of his life – Ireland.

Once his posting in Ireland had concluded, Dan returned to America, to Pittsburgh, to his home on the city’s North Side, and to his office at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, which always was right next to the office occupied by his son, Art II. But as he was preparing for Ireland and the Ambassadorship, Dan was asked if he had any advice for the NFL he was leaving, if only temporarily, and his words then still apply today.

“I could say the same thing about the league as I could say for society, and that is: don’t let money and individual fame get in the way. The thing the NFL has, the thing that makes us good – and this is what motivated me – is the game. I realized the game is it. I think it’s the best game in the world.

“I would just like to be thought of as someone who gave his time to the game, who was willing to spend the extra hour when it came time to doing the job. But it’s the people – which I did get from my father – the people are what counts. And they are people, they’re individuals and not just left tackles or linebackers – even the quarterbacks.”

Even though Dan Rooney was born with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL in his blood, he often cited 1955 as the official start of his involvement in the family business. There can be no argument that 62 years later, he left everything he touched in better shape than he found it.

“The thing I’ve done is to just help everybody here do their job,” he said., “and to be sure that they know that our integrity is always first and foremost. That if we say something, it better be right. We’re not here to cheat anybody, the players or anyone else. You don’t need to be out there trying to take advantage of people in order to succeed. And (that approach) hasn’t hurt us.”

Sadly, Daniel Rooney passed away in April of 2017 at the age of 84. His legacy will live on through the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization as well as his many impactful contributions to the great game of football.

Excerpts taken from “Walking with Kings” by Bob Labriola, Editor, Steelers Digest and Contributor, Steelers.com
Excerpt from Steelers.com, posted April 13, 2017