Native American NFL Players

Native American NFL Players

In today's era of dominance by the National Football League (NFL), it's easy to overlook the historical contributions made by Native American players to the sport. From the inception of professional football to the present day, Native American athletes have left an indelible mark on the game.  Despite controversies with team names and mascots, Native American players have made an impact on the league.

In this article, we delve into the captivating stories of some of the greatest Native American NFL players of all time, showcasing their talent, resilience, and lasting impact on the sport. Join us on a journey through history as we shine a spotlight on these remarkable individuals who have helped shape the NFL into what it is today.

The Importance of Native Americans in the NFL

Did you know that Native Americans are among the first football enthusiasts throughout history?

In 1922, the Oorang Indians were born, the first Native American NFL team, which, sadly, was disbanded only after two seasons due to lack of funding. The players involved were from Chippewa, Fox, Cherokee, Mohawk, Seneca, Blackfeet, Winnebago, Mission, Caddo, Sac, and Penobscot tribes. 

Malcolm Luciano Rodriguez

Teams: Detroit Lions

Years playing in the NFL: 2022-present

So, who’s Malcolm Rodriguez? He was born on March 29, 1999, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, United States, and at just 25 years old (yes, truly), he is one of the best champions of our times. Even though he’s only been playing for two years, he’s attracting lots of attention, especially in the betting world. Thinking of checking out the NFL futures bets this season? We’d say he’s a safe one to gamble on!

The young American is a descendant of a Mexican father and his mother is from the Cherokee tribe, although his Aztec roots are very present in his name. He got his start at Wagoner High School (playing quarterback and defensive line), and during his time here, scored 115 touchdowns and 144 passes for 2,449 yards. Impressive? We think so.

The Lions took him on in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The outcome? We’ve seen him in 16 games so far, starting 15 of them as a starter, racking up 87 tackles, defending two passes, and forcing a loose ball. All those achievements stacked up to see him called to the Pro Football Writers Association to be part of the rookie team of 2024. How’s that for a start?

Jim Thorpe

Teams: Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Oorang Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, Tampa Cardinals, Chicago Cardinals

Years playing in the NFL: 1915-1928

Jim Thorpe is one of the most famous Native American names in sport and it’s no wonder when you look at his record – and yet he’s not from prestigious beginnings!

Son of an Indian blacksmith in the Sac and Fox region of Oklahoma, he grew up with the impressive athletic ability to wow the world – us included. Olympic champion? Try two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics, in the decathlon and pentathlon! He was a professional football star and a member of the Hall of Fame.

Tyler Bray

Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers

Years playing in the NFL: 2013-2021

Tyler Bray, a member of the Potawatomi tribe, rose to prominence as a standout quarterback during his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee. As a four-year starter for the Volunteers, Bray showcased his talent and leadership on the gridiron, earning recognition for his impressive performances. In 2013, Bray transitioned to the professional ranks when he entered the NFL Draft. The Kansas City Chiefs recognized his potential and drafted him, providing him with the opportunity to continue his football journey at the highest level.

Bray spent five seasons with the Chiefs, contributing to the team's efforts both on and off the field. His tenure with Kansas City was followed by a move to the Chicago Bears in the subsequent years, where he continued to hone his skills and make valuable contributions to the team. Despite facing challenges along the way, Bray's resilience and dedication to the game remained unwavering.

In 2021, Bray joined the San Francisco 49ers, showcasing his determination to pursue his NFL aspirations. Although he didn't secure a spot on the final roster, Bray's perseverance and commitment to the sport underscore his deserving place among the notable Native American NFL players. Bray's journey serves as a testament to his talent, resilience, and enduring passion for football.

Keenan Allen

Teams: San Diego/LA Chargers

Years playing in the NFL: 2013-present

Keenan Allen stands as one of the NFL's enduring figures of Native American heritage, boasting a career marked by remarkable achievements and consistency on the field. A proud member of the Lumbee tribe, hailing from North Carolina, Allen's journey to NFL stardom is a testament to his talent and perseverance. In 2013, Allen's professional career commenced with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he quickly established himself as a pivotal player within the franchise.

Throughout his tenure with the Chargers, Allen's exceptional skills as a wide receiver became evident, earning him widespread acclaim and admiration from fans and peers alike. His ability to consistently deliver standout performances under pressure solidified his reputation as one of the league's most reliable players. Allen's contributions played a significant role in leading the Chargers to the playoffs during the 2022 season, showcasing his instrumental role in the team's success.

Beyond his on-field prowess, Allen remains a source of inspiration and pride for the Lumbee tribe and the broader Native American community. His resilience, determination, and unwavering dedication to his craft serve as a source of motivation for aspiring athletes everywhere. As one of the NFL's longest-tenured players of Native American descent, Keenan Allen's impact transcends the game, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire generations to come.

Joe Guyon

Teams: Canton Bulldogs, Washington Senators, Union Quakers of Philadelphia, Cleveland Indians, Oorang Indians, Rock Island Independents, Kansas City Cowboys, New York Giants

Years playing in the NFL: 1919-1927

Want a bit of history? Native Americans have been part of football for over 100 years! Joe Guyon, of the Chippewa tribe, was definitely one of the most influential Native American players in the game during the 1920s, and we saw him play alongside Jim Thorpe on several teams (they were great times!). In 1927, we saw him win the NFL Championship with the New York Giants – what a way to finish his career!

James Winchester

Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs

Years played in the NFL: 2013-present

James Winchester joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2013 but was released before the start of the season during roster cuts. A year and a half later, we saw him join the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that led him to success, where he still plays today. This led up to the 2019 Super Bowl, which — as we all fondly remember — saw his team win against the 49ers. And it was Winchester himself who proudly and happily lifted the famous Lombardi trophy! What a great game!

Who is your favorite Native American NFL player?

About Paul G

Paul G is the founder, who wears many hats as a business coach, photographer, and collector of quirky shirts. Paul started in 1996 while pursuing his graduate degree. With a passion for travel, he and his family hav  traveled the world, capturing unforgettable memories and photos. When he's not coaching or clicking, he's indulging in the magic of Disney.

One Comment “Native American NFL Players”

  • Avatar for M Handall

    M Handall


    For Future perhaps. Tuff Harris Former NFL Player is Crow and Northern Cheyenne from Montana

    Tuff Harris retired from a 5 year career in professional football. He was a defensive back for the Edmonton Eskimos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. Tuff’s excellent work ethic and his never quit attitude has been the reason many teams have taken notice over the years. Although Tuff never found a starting position on defense he excelled on special teams and was awarded various team honors throughout his career. His career was cut short due to accumulating injuries. Tuff has always appreciated every minute he has been given to play the game of football and continues to share his experiences with everyone.
    Tuff who is of Crow and Northern Cheyenne decent was born Chester David Harris on the Crow Indian Reservation. He has been through many trials in his life but none more difficult then when he was an infant. He was born in Montana during some of the coldest temperatures in the US. Due to a lack of sufficient heating and living conditions he contracted pneumonia and was in critical condition. He was transported by helicopter to Billings, MT where doctors fought to keep him alive. After hours of repeated resuscitation he was stable and breathing on his own. One doctor gave the report of his condition to his family and after a moment of relief the doctor continued to say, “every time we put breath back into him he would open his eyes and smile, any kid who could go through all that and smile is a pretty tough kid! ” His grandmother started calling him “Tuff” and the name quickly stuck. Even though he still goes through various trials Tuff keeps on smiling!

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