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George Jewett trophy game honors U of M, Northwestern’s first Black football player

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George Jewett was the first black football player to play for both The University of Michigan and Northwestern University. This weekend, both teams will play for a trophy named in his honor.

As the first black football player in the Big Ten, George Jewett made waves at both the University of Michigan and Northwestern University in the early 1890s. This weekend, in honor of the trailblazing athlete, the Wolverines and the Wildcats will go head to head at the Big House for the inaugural George Jewett Trophy game.

Throughout his collegiate career, Jewett was known as not only a great student athlete, but also a great scholar. After graduating from what is now Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, George went on to play football and study medicine at U of M. He later transferred to Northwestern to continue his football career and finish out his medical degree.

According to Greg Kinney, chief sports archivist at U of M’s Bentley Library, Jewett was very well liked by his teammates and classmates at both universities. Although George was later subject to the harsh circumstances of the Jim Crow era, sources indicate that he was fully accepted as a team member at U of M.

“On campus, he was, you know, relatively quiet, mild mannered, very friendly, easy to get along with,” said Kinney. “He seems to have had a very good relationship with his teammates.”

George Jewett’s time at U of M and Northwestern had a significant impact on college football and the Big Ten, and this weekend’s game will mark the start of a long tradition where both teams come together to honor the great player. Jewett’s living relatives will also be invited to watch the game from the sidelines.

Michael George Jewett, George Jewett’s great-grandson, said that his family was thrilled to hear about the honor and can’t wait for game day. Jewett recalled growing up hearing stories of George’s achievements and overcomings, which the family now passes down to the youngest generation.

“You know, getting an education beyond a certain level was just a very rare thing. Even more so for an African-American. And then to play something like athletics and to excel in athletics to the level of what he achieved in terms of just like how many opportunities were actually out there. I mean, it's really, really it's quite an achievement,” said Jewett. “And, you know, fitting that he should be honored this way. So we're certainly thrilled and grateful that he's being honored and honored for this.”

The Michigan Wolverines will face off against the Northwestern Wildcats for the first George Jewett Trophy this Saturday at noon EST.

Anna is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism with a concentration in international reporting.
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