NFL PIONEER LOWELL PERRY
Lowell Perry, who became the first African-American coach in modern professional sports history 40 years ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the subject of a story in todays New York Times (October 29).
Perry was an outstanding rookie wide receiver for the Steelers in 1956 but was injured. Steelers owner Art Rooney named him the teams receivers coach in 1957, with Perry thereby pre-dating Earl Lloyd in the NBA (1961) and Buck ONeill in Major League Baseball (1962) as the African-American coaching pioneers in modern-day (1940s) pro sports.
"Mr. Rooney was, and always will be, one of the most fair and honest people I have ever known," the 65-year old Perry told the Times. "He told me, Lowell, as long as I own the Pittsburgh Steelers, you have a job in my organization."
Perry left coaching after one year to pursue his law degree, which he earned from the University of Detroit before accomplishing two other "firsts." While with the Chrysler Corporation, he became the first African-American to become a manager at an American automotive plant in 1973. Seven years earlier, he became the first African-American to broadcast pro football when he was hired by CBS. Perry is now the Director of the Office of Urban Programs for Michigan.
As far as placement of African-Americans in the NFL as head coaches through programs that are being set up by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Perry feels the NFL is taking positive steps.
"Im glad the league recognizes its a problem and is at least trying to fix it," he said. "The Tony Dungys, the (Ray) Rhodeses, Dennis Green are helping pave the way like I did."
The first African-American to ever coach in the NFL was in the leagues formative years in the early 20s. Fritz Pollard coached the Akron Pros in 1920 and the Hammond Pros in 1925. Pollard was also the leagues first African-American quarterback, for Akron in 1920.