Jackie Robinson in NFL History
Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) became the first African-American to break baseball's color line when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Though primarily remembered today as a civil rights pioneer, Robinson was also a phenomenal ballplayer. In his ten-year major league career, he won both Rookie of the Year and National League MVP awards and appeared in six World Series. In 1962, he won first-ballot induction into baseball's Hall of Fame and in 1997, every team in Major League Baseball retired his jersey number, 42.
Before making baseball history with the Dodgers, Robinson excelled at a number of other sports. (In the late 1930s, he won an unprecedented four varsity letters at UCLA.) Many observers said Robinson's best sport was actually not baseball but football, where his speed and elusiveness made him a potent offensive weapon. In 1939, Robinson led the nation in rushing yards per carry; in 1941, he ran circles around the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game pitting collegiate all-stars against the NFL champs. But the NFL, like Major League Baseball, was a whites-only league at the time, so Robinson was forced to abandon football to begin his baseball career with the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs. Ironically, two of Robinson's UCLA teammates, Woody Strode and Kenny Washington, became the first black players to play in the modern NFL in 1946—one year before Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.