Wally Triplett, one of the first black athletes drafted by an NFL team, died Thursday morning, the Detroit Free Press reported. He was 92.
Triplett, who played collegiately at Penn State, was drafted out of Penn State University by the Detroit Lions in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL draft. There were three black players drafted that year, but Triplett was the first to play in a regular-season game, according to an obituary that appeared in the Lawrence Journal World
Triplett, a 5-foot-11, 173-pounder who was a running back and kick returner, played two years with the Lions and two with the Chicago Cardinals. He played in 24 games, starting nine with the Lions, and rushed for 321 yards in 70 carries. He scored one touchdown.
Triplett a native of La Mott, Pennsylvania, also made 17 catches for 175 yards.
“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," the Lions said in a news release. "He resides among the great men who helped reshape the game as they faced the challenges of segregation and discrimination.
“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.
“We fondly reflect on his great achievements and send our heartfelt condolences to the Triplett family.”
Triplett had 34 career punt returns for 401 yards and a touchdown, and returned 18 kickoffs for 664 yards and a touchdown.
On Oct. 29, 1950, Triplett set a then-NFL record with 294 yards on four kick returns, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams, the Free Press reported. The record stood for 44 years and is now the third-highest mark in league history.
Triplett was drafted into the Army after the 1950 season and served two years before finishing his career with the Cardinals.