Bob (Robert) Mann became the first African American player to play in a regular season game for the Green Bay Packers in 1950. Mid-season in 1950, a line coach for the Packers called Mann and asked him to play. He said no. They called again. This time they were successful in recruiting the receiver to Green Bay. Mann arrived on Saturday and played on Sunday.
But before that, Mann was one of the first African American players signed to the Detroit Lions. He played with them for two seasons.
In 1949, during Bob Mann’s second season with the Detroit Lions, the team played the Philadelphia Eagles in New Orleans. Southern tradition banned African American players from playing at the stadium. Mann and his teammates Mel Groomes and Wallace Triplett were not allowed to play.
After discussion with the league, the Lions’ head coach Bo McMillin was given the option to break the color barrier. He refused. Instead of playing alongside their teammates, Mann, Groomes, and Triplett listened to the game at one of Mann’s relative’s homes in New Orleans.
“Bo told us he didn’t think he should be the one to break it. I thought to myself, ‘fine that’s his decision.’ Bo could have ended all that. He was supposed to be Mr. Great Liberal. But he didn’t do it. He just passed it by. He could have been a big guy, a big fellow, but he didn’t do it. I’ve never forgotten that…He had a chance to be a hero, step up to the plate, but he didn’t do it.”
In the exhibit “Delay of Game: Experiences of African American Football Players in Titletown” there is a Lions Jersey displayed (on loan from the Mann family). This jersey was given to Mann when we was honorary captain at the Lions vs. Packers game in 2002. A fitting game considering he broke the color barrier for both teams.