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Penn State

RB Wally Triplett, 1st black player to start for Penn State, dies at 92

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 7:12 p.m.
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2017, file photo, Wally Triplett, a member of the 1949 Detroit Lions, is wheeled onto the field before an NFL football game between the Lions and the Cleveland Browns in Detroit. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2017, file photo, Wally Triplett, a member of the 1949 Detroit Lions, is wheeled onto the field before an NFL football game between the Lions and the Cleveland Browns in Detroit. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2105, file photo, Penn State great Wally Triplett visits during the NCAA college football team's practice in State College, Pa. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2105, file photo, Penn State great Wally Triplett visits during the NCAA college football team's practice in State College, Pa. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP, File)
FILE - In this July 30, 1953, file photo, veteran halfback Wally Triplett of Penn State U., originally from La Mott, Pa., poses in action during his second year with Chicago Cardinals and fourth year in the National Football League. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this July 30, 1953, file photo, veteran halfback Wally Triplett of Penn State U., originally from La Mott, Pa., poses in action during his second year with Chicago Cardinals and fourth year in the National Football League. Triplett, who left his indelible mark on NFL history by becoming the first African-American player to be drafted and play for an NFL team, passed away Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, the Detroit Lions announced. He was 92. (AP Photo/File)

DETROIT — Wally Triplett, the trailblazing running back who was one of the first black players 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 black player 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 black player to start for Penn State, and in 1948, he and teammate Dennie Hoggard became the first blacks 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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