While pursuing a degree in nursing, George Jewett broke the color barrier as the first Black football player in the history of the Big Ten. During the 1890 and 1892 seasons, he played fullback, halfback, and kicker at Michigan before transferring to Northwestern in 1893 to play two more seasons and earn his degree.
Typically the George Jewetts of the world go unsung or end up as some obscure Jeopardy question. But Michigan and Northwestern are ensuring his legacy as a trailblazer will never be forgotten with the announcement of a trophy in his honor.
According to CBS Sports, the George Jewett Trophy will be awarded to whoever wins the rivalry game between the two schools. The trophy is the first FBS college football trophy to be named after a Black player.
“This is a historic moment in major college football history,” Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with our peer institution, Northwestern, to recognize and honor an African American pioneer in George Jewett. George achieved at a high level as an athlete and doctor. His hard work and effort led to success not only for himself, but for those who would follow a similar path after him. His excellence at two Big Ten institutions as a student, athlete and citizen is something we want our current student-athletes to aspire to during their collegiate experience. The George Jewett Trophy will become a proud celebration of the importance to diversity on our teams, campuses, and in our society.”
After finishing college, Jewett moved to Chicago and become a doctor until 1899. He then relocated to Ann Arbor, Mich., to coach and establish a dry cleaning and pressing business. He died in 1908 at the age of 38.
“This is a deserved and exciting acknowledgement of Dr. George Jewett, a landmark figure for both Northwestern and Michigan,” Northwestern’s interim athletic director Janna Blais said in a statement. “Beginning this fall, each time Wildcats and Wolverines student-athletes meet on the football field, it will be in celebration of a true pioneer. Every future meeting will stand as an opportunity to educate, communicate and inspire our communities in Dr. Jewett’s memory. Those dates also will offer a chance to take stock of the critical work taking place to create cultures defined by justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and excellence on our campuses and beyond.”
Because the Wolverines and Wildcats are in separate divisions within the Big Ten, they don’t meet every year. But on Oct. 23, they’ll be facing off in Ann Arbor. And to the victor goes the spoils: the George Jewett Trophy.