Wally Triplett was a trailblazer of sorts around the National Football League. A star at Penn State, he was one of the first three African-American players to be drafted into the NFL, having been selected in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
Triplett died Thursday at the age of 92.
The running back and kick returner was the first NFL African-American draft pick to play in a game. He was also the first African-American starter in Penn State history.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1927, Triplett played football, basketball and baseball at Cheltenham High School before receiving a scholarship to Penn State. He ultimately played four seasons in the NFL and set the single-game NFL record with 294 return yards in a game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1950.
“Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history,” the Lions said in a statement released Thursday, via the team’s official website. “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.”
Triplett is survived by three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Our thoughts go out to his entire family, the Detroit Lions’ organization and the entire NFL.