Wally Triplett, 92; African-Amer­i­can NFL pi­o­neer

Pawtucket Times - - REGION/OBITUARIES -

DETROIT (AP) — Wally Triplett, the trail­blaz­ing run­ning back who was one of the first African-Amer­i­cans drafted by an NFL team, has died. He was 92.

The Detroit Lions and Penn State an­nounced Triplett’s death Thurs­day. Triplett was the third African-Amer­i­can se­lected in the 1949 draft, but he was the first of those draftees to play in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game. He played in 24 games for the Lions and Chicago Cardinals.

Triplett was also the first African-Amer­i­can to start for Penn State, and in 1948, he and team­mate Den­nie Hog­gard be­came the first African-Amer­i­cans to play in the Cot­ton Bowl.

“This is a tremen­dous loss for not only our foot­ball pro­gram, but the Penn State com­mu­nity as a whole,” Penn State coach James Franklin said in a state­ment. “Wally was a trail­blazer as the first African-Amer­i­can to be drafted and play in the NFL, and his in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to live on. He had a pro­found ef­fect on me and the team when he vis­ited in 2015 and shared valu­able lessons from his life story and abil­ity to over­come.”

Triplett was in­ducted into the Cot­ton Bowl Hall of Fame this year, and his ap­pear­ance in that game is part of Penn State lore. Ac­cord­ing to the school, the team was asked to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of leav­ing Triplett and Hog­gard at home for the game in then-seg­re­gated Dal­las. Team­mates re­sponded by say­ing: “We are Penn State, there will be no meet­ings” — a ref­er­ence to a pre­vi­ous Penn State team that voted to can­cel a game at seg­re­gated Mi­ami.

The story re­mains an im­por­tant part of Penn State his­tory, es­pe­cially given the school’s well-known “We Are” moniker.

Triplett was drafted by the Lions in the 19th round in 1949. He played in 18 games for Detroit from 1949-50. On Oct. 29, 1950, against the Los An­ge­les Rams, he had 294 yards on four kick­off re­turns, an NFL record that lasted un­til 1994.

“As the first African-Amer­i­can to be drafted and to play in the Na­tional Foot­ball League, Wally is one of the true trail­blaz­ers in Amer­i­can sports his­tory. He re­sides among the great men who helped re­shape the game as they faced the chal­lenges of seg­re­ga­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion,” the Lions said in a state­ment. “His con­tri­bu­tions date back to his days at Penn State as the Nit­tany Lions’ first African-Amer­i­can starter and var­sity let­ter win­ner, high­lighted by his ap­pear­ance in the first in­te­grated Cot­ton Bowl. Wally’s legacy also reaches be­yond break­ing color bar­ri­ers, hav­ing served in the United States Army dur­ing the Korean War.”

Ge­orge Tali­a­ferro was the first black player drafted in the NFL when he went six rounds be­fore Triplett in 1949. Tali­a­ferro also died re­cently.

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