Despite the racial, social, and economic barriers that African Americans have faced in sports, notable individuals rose above the challenges and broke barriers for Black coaches in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and more.
Black people have had to fight to create a space for themselves in every American sport, especially when it comes to coaching. In celebration of Black History Month, keep scrolling to take a look back at all the coaches who trailblazed a path and broke the color barrier in their respective leagues.
Keep scrolling to see just a few of the Black coaches who paved the way in American sports.
Frederick "Fritz" Pollard
Fredrick "Fritz" Pollard made history in 1921 when he was named the co-coach of the Akron Pros, making him the first Black coach in the history of the NFL, which was called the American Professional Football Association at the time. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005, Pollard was one of the first Black players in the league alongside Bobby Marshall.
68 years after Pollard came Art Shell, the first Black head coach in the modern era of the NFL, marked after the NFL-AFL merger of 1970. Shell, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, coached the Raiders from 1989 to 1994, leading the team to the AFC Championship game in 1990. He returned to the team for one season in 2006 and is regarded as a groundbreaker by many Black head coaches today.
Bill Russell broke barriers in 1968, becoming the NBA's first Black coach. While doubling as a player and coach of the Boston Celtics, a common practice of the time, Russell won two championship titles in three years. Russell is widely regarded as a sports pioneer who also served as a civil rights activist alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil
In 1962, John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil started coaching the Chicago Cubs, making him the first Black coach in Major League Baseball. O'Neil started as a first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro League team. He would go on to become player-manager of the team, which led him to a scouting job for the Cubs in 1956. O'Neil is credited for signing Hall of Fame players Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to their first contracts during his time as the Cubs' coach.
Dirk Graham became the first Black coach in the NHL in 1998, guiding the Chicago Blackhawks for 52 games. Graham previously made history with the Blackhawks in 1989 when he became the first Black captain in the NHL.