A decorated athlete who played a significant role in breaking racial barriers within the NFL has received a long-overdue honor for his trailblazing contributions. According to USA Today, Duke Slater—the National Football League’s first Black lineman—was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Slater—a Normal, Illinois native who was an All-American player at the University of Iowa—started his journey in the NFL in 1922 with the Milwaukee Badgers. Following a short stint with the team, he was signed by the Rock Island Independents and later joined the Chicago Cardinals. The two-way lineman, who had a 6-foot-1, 215-pound stature, competed for 10 consecutive seasons; making him the longest playing African American athlete in the league during his time. Although he excelled on the football field, Slater had to deal with the obstacles that stemmed from navigating a racist climate. There were occurrences throughout his career when he was barred from playing in certain states due to the color of his skin. His accomplishments were often disregarded and overt racial discrimination kept him from being included on the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team.
Despite the hurdles, he persevered. Slater’s barrier-breaking accomplishments transcended beyond the field. After retiring, Slater took the tenacity he displayed as a lineman into the courtroom. He started a practice in Chicago and in 1948 became the city’s second Black judge. Nearly 12 years later, he became the first African American judge to serve on the Superior Court of Chicago. He passed away in 1966, but his legacy and impact has lived on through generations of football players and public servants who have used their careers as avenues for change.
Slater’s induction was initially announced in 2020 as part of the NFL’s centennial class and he was officially inducted on Saturday. His family says the induction holds a lot of significance for the world of sports. “We thought he was already in,” his niece Sandra Wilkins said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “Until recently, the family wasn’t aware of the significance of this. He was an amazing man. I’m so grateful that he is going to be remembered.”
In recent years, pioneering Black athletes have finally been given their flowers. In 2018, Willie O’Ree—the first Black player in the National Hockey League—was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.