Honoring HBCU History

The NFL celebrates its rich history with HBCUs.

The contribution of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to the NFL has changed the game forever.

The elite brotherhood of HBCU players has had a tremendous impact on football and in the communities in which they have played, exemplifying excellence on and off the field.

Whether it’s celebrating personal or team successes or positively impacting communities across the country, the influence of players from HBCUs is woven into the fabric of the NFL.

Honoring HBCU Players

The all-time leader in career receptions, receiving yards and most career touchdowns (Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State). The player with the most sacks in a single season (Michael Strahan, Texas Southern). The only man to ever win both a Super Bowl ring and an Olympic gold medal (Bob Hayes, Florida A&M). And the namesake for the NFL’s most prestigious honor (Walter Payton, Jackson State).

These are just a few of the accomplishments made by HBCU players in the NFL — all players that are enshrined forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Check out HBCU athletes, coaches, and notable figures who have graced the covers of Sports Illustrated.

HBCU players represent only a small portion of the total football population, yet nearly 10% of all players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame attended HBCUs (35 out of 371 members). Super Bowl rings, Pro Bowls and all-time records are attributed to these athletes; and their performance on and off the field set the standard for generations to come.


2018 Black College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

2018 Black College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

In 2016, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame (BCFHOF) partnered on a permanent home for the BCFHOF — the Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio, which celebrates the legacy of HBCUs on the game. The partnership also includes a traveling exhibit and established an HBCU postgraduate internship.

The BCFHOF was founded in 2009 by Black pioneers and NFL quarterbacks James Harris and Doug Williams. The institution preserves the history and honors the greatest players, coaches and contributors from HBCUs. There have been 90 inductees since its creation.


Doug Williams, former Grambling State University quarterback, was the first Black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl.


The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy. (AP/Ben Liebenberg)

The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy. (AP/Ben Liebenberg)

No honor represents the exemplary character of athletes more than the league’s most prestigious and coveted recognition — the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. 

Named after the legendary Chicago Bears running back and Jackson State University alumnus, the annual award is given to the player who best represents the NFL’s commitment to philanthropy and community impact. 

Learn more about the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

HBCU Facts

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before 1964 with the principal mission of educating and serving Black Americans.

As of 2023, there are 107 HBCUs located in 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands that enroll almost 300,000 students. Of the 300,000, approximately 80% are Black, and 70% are from low-income families.

See below for more facts about HBCUs and their extensive history:

  • Founded in 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was the first HBCU. The first HBCU owned and operated by Black Americans was Wilberforce University in Ohio, which was founded in 1856. It was named after William Wilberforce who first led efforts to abolish slavery.
  • Between 1861 and 1900, more than 90 institutions of higher learning were established. Founded in 1865, Shaw University was the first Black college organized after the Civil War. Other schools include Talladega College, Howard University, Morehouse College and Hampton University.
  • Some of the first HBCUs were established to train teachers, preachers, and other community members.
  • Enrollment at HBCUs has been dominated by women since 1976 and has increased ever since.
  • HBCUs generate $14.8 billion in economic impact annually, the equivalent to ranking in the top 200 on the Fortune 500 list of the America’s largest corporations.
  • HBCUs have created 134,090 jobs for local and regional economies. Of this total, 57,868 are on-campus jobs, and 76,222 are off-campus.
  • Over half of all Black American professionals are graduates of HBCUs with more than half of Black public-school teachers and 70% of Black dentists having earned degrees at HBCUs.
  • HBCUs remain leading institutions in granting bachelor's degrees to Black students in engineering, mathematics, physical sciences and life sciences (STEM fields).
  • Historical figures, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. attended HBCUs.
  • Other notable HBCU graduates include Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard), Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State), Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College), Toni Morrison (Howard), Spike Lee (Morehouse), and Langston Hughes (Lincoln).
  • Currently, there are 35 HBCU alumni from 17 different HBCUs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • From the 1950s and into the 1970s, many Black players couldn’t attend predominantly white schools to play football. Many players turned to HBCUs, including NFL Legends Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, and Deacon Jones.
  • The most HBCU alumni playing in the NFL at once was in 2019 when there were 32 active players in the NFL.
  • Following the 2021 NFL Draft, the most draft picks from an HBCU include Grambling State (121), Tennessee State (117), Jackson State (101), Southern University (78), and Florida A&M (69).
  • For a complete list of HBCUs located in each state across the U.S., click here.