Since February is also the month where most Americans are glued to their televisions, watching two of the most highly rated television events of the year - The Super Bowl and The Academy Awards - we thought it would be fitting to highlight how African Americans have shaped these two iconic events.
African American Super Bowl "Firsts"
Though African Americans have accomplished great things in the modern Super Bowl era, the legacy began in 1920 with Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard, when he led the Akron Pros to the American Professional Football Association (APFA) Championship that year as a running back. The AFPA later merged with the American Football League to form the NFL as we know it today. Over 50 years later in 1975, Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers(who was of mixed heritage) became both the first African American and Italian American to win the title of Super Bowl MVP. In 1988's Super Bowl XXII, Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first black starting quarterback to play in and win a modern era Super Bowl. There would not be another black quarterback to win the Super Bowl until Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, over 25 years later.
Leaving the field and focusing on legue staff, the NFL made history in 2007 when two black head coaches met in the Super Bowl for the first time. Head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy and former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith went head to head in Super Bowl XLI. Dungy and the Colts went on to claim the win that year. The following season, Jerry Reese, General Manager of the New York Giants became the first African American GM to win the Lombardi trophy in Super Bowl XLII. Lastly, after a career that spanned 18 years, Mike Carey became the first African American head referee in a Super Bowl in 2008. Although this was a huge moment in black history, it must also be noted that Burl Toler became the first African American to officiate in a Super Bowl as a head linesman in 1980 in Super Bowl XIV.
And the Academy Award Goes to......!
African Americans have always been major contributors to the film industry, though for many years the Academy Award has eluded many black actors, producers and directors. Even still, there have been a few African Americans who have been nominated for and or received Hollywood's highest honor.
It is certainly no secret that Hattie McDaniel was the first African American of any gender to win an Academy Award in any category for her role as "Mammy" in Gone With the Wind, but did you know that there wasn't even another black nomination in a traditional category until Dorothy Dandridge was nominated in 1954 for her title role in Carmen Jones? The next African American actress to win an Oscar happened in 1990 when Whoopi Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Ghost. Sydney Poitier was the first African American actor to win the coveted award in 1963 for Best Actor in Lillies of the Field. History was made in 2001 when the world saw two African Americans win Best Actor and Best Actress, which went to Denzel Washington for Training Day and Halle Berry for Monster's Ball.
Heading behind the scenes to the incredible people who "really make the movies happen",Suzanne de Passe was the first African American writer nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues in 1972. Quincy Jones was nominated as a producer for Best Picture in 1985 for The Color Purple. There was not an African American winner in this category until Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave in 2013. And while there have been no African American winners in the Best Director category, there have been a few nominations, including John Singleton who was nominated in 1991 for Boyz n The Hood. He made history both as the first African American and youngest person ever to be nominated for this award. He was 24 at the time.