ANNAPOLIS- After breaking training camp in 1953, the Baltimore Colts returned to the city to stay in the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
At the time, the Colts had three black players. George Taliaferro was among them.
Taliaferro said he walked into the lobby of the hotel to pick up his key. When he learned his white teammates were staying but he and his black teammates were leaving, he was incensed.
“I just lost it,” he said.
That was Taliaferro’s introduction to Charm City.
He was embarrassed. He wasn’t a young player just happy to be with a team. The Colts were his fourth team since 1949 and he had established himself as a skilled player.
He wasn’t there to make friends, and discrimination, he said, wasn’t going to be tolerated.
He refused to play in the next exhibition game after the incident. And when Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom attempted to persuade him, Taliaferro balked.
Then, Taliaferro said, Rosenbloom pulled out a wad of $100 bills that “looked like a baseball,” and gave him a few.
“How many quarters do you want me to play,” he responded, serious then, but laughing now.
Taliaferro was the first black player drafted by an NFL team. The All-American halfback from Indiana University was chosen by the Chicago Bears in the 13th round of the 1949 draft, but instead chose to sign with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference.
In 1953 he came to the Baltimore Colts and according to Jon Kendle, a researcher with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Taliaferro, along with two other teammates, Claude “Buddy” Young and Mel Embree, became the first black players in franchise history.
In 1950, Taliaferro played for the then New York Yanks football team while Jackie Robinson played for baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. The two became friends, Taliaferro said.
“What you need to know about Jackie is this,” he said. “Jackie would fight at the drop of the hat over anything. But he sacrificed his temper and never once made a peep.”
Taliaferro spoke with great deference about Robinson and his wife Rachel Robinson, calling her “the glue.”
He ended his NFL career as a multiple time All-Pro and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Taliaferro, now 85 and living in Ohio, said he didn’t take any gruff from anyone.
“I wasn’t living for anyone to like me,” Taliaferro said. “I already liked me.”
When the team traveled to Tulsa, Okla. and Taliaferro was again not permitted to stay in a white-only hotel, he said the Colts agreed to reimburse him for the expense of staying at a hotel owned by his friend.
Taliaferro submitted what may have been a somewhat bloated bill to Don Kellett, who would later become the Colts general manager, with a simple phrase.
“Discrimination is expensive” Taliaferro said.
Whether his rushing style was running around defenders or through them, his way of dealing with discrimination was clear.
“I did not allow discrimination to define me. What defined me is what I did on the field.”