Black History: Special Delivery!!
Burl Toler (1928-2009) takes his place in history as the very first African American official in the National Football League (NFL). Toler is also known for his career as a college football player at the University of San Francisco. The team was undefeated and untied in 1951 but was denied a bowl game because of their refusal to leave two African American players behind, Burl Toler and Ollie Matson. Toler later became a 9th round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns but never played a game for the team due to a knee injury he sustained in a college game.
Toler began officiating for the NFL in 1965; making him the first African American official in a major American professional team sport. Toler’s career spanned 25 years as a head linesman and field judge in the NFL. He was also the first African American official to work in a Super Bowl Game. Toler retired in 1990.
While Toler was the first African American official in the NFL. Johnny Grier was the first African American to be an NFL referee. In professional football there are several on-field officials. Many times, these roles can be referred to as a “referees”. So technically speaking, Grier was the first African American “referee” in the NFL. However, Toler remains the first African American official in the NFL. Toler died at the age of 81 in 2009.