William ‘Willie the Pro” Thrower was the first #African American to play as a quarterback in the National Football League (NFL). He was not the first #black person to play the position of quarterback at a Big Ten conference school, but he was the first in the post-World War II era. Thrower was also known as “Mitts” for his large hands and arm strength compared to his 5’11 frame. Thrower was born on March 22, 1930, in New Kensington Pennsylvania. He played halfback in the single-wing formation for New Kensington High as a freshman just after World War II. His coach soon moved him to quarterback and he went on to win 24 straight games for his school.
Although his statistics as a college and high school football player were good, he is best known for breaking the racial barrier. Despite his accomplishments, Thrower still experienced discrimination. In 1947, the Miami, Florida Peanut Bowl, featuring top high school teams around the country, rescinded the invitation it had extended to Ken High to play in the annual prep classic game when organizers saw a photograph of Thrower as the star. There were also many colleges that opted not to extend Thrower a scholarship when they discovered his ethnicity.
After graduation from high school, Thrower played college football for the Michigan State Spartans. During the 1952 championship season, Thrower was an big part of the title run, completing 59 percent of his passes and five touchdowns. In a crucial game with Notre Dame, Thrower stepped in for an injured Tom Yewcic and threw a touchdown in a 21-3 win.
Although Thrower was not drafted in 1953, but he was offered a one year contract for $8,500 with the Chicago Bears. He became the backup quarterback and roommate to future Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda. After his retirement, Thrower became a social worker in New York City. He eventually returned to his hometown of New Kensington, Pennsylvania in 1969, and opened two taverns. He died of a heart attack in New Kensington on February 20, 2002, at the age of 71.