Bartow’s own Ken Riley to be enshrined in NFL Hall of Fame

The world just learned something that Polk County knew long ago – Ken Riley deserves to be in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Former NFL superstar Ken Riley stands next to his display in the Polk County Sports Hall of FameAfter a 15-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Riley recorded at total of 65 interceptions – an amount only surpassed by four other players. As Bengals owner Mike Brown said in an interview after the NFL Honors awards show in Arizona, this moment was “long deserved.”

While Riley passed in 2020, his journey, from segregated Union Academy in Bartow to the NFL and the halls of academia, inspired countless other Polk County athletes. Additionally, his knowledge of Polk County athletics helped guide Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing serve the memories of those athletes whose prowess had been either forgotten or overlooked.

Riley honored those who turned him into the future NFL Hall of Famer after his induction into the inaugural Class of 2000 into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame. He contributed his time, energy and guidance as an active member of the Polk County All Sports Awards and Hall of Fame Committee, championing those Union Academy student-athletes and faculty whose contributions might otherwise have been forgotten. Establishing the Ken Riley Foundation, he supported college and technical students as they pursued academic advancement. Through the Eastside Positive Action Committee, Riley sought to unite families and the community for the betterment of all by empowering through knowledge.

Ken Riley’s inspirational story starts on the green fields of Bartow, where he played quarterback for Union Academy during the hardships of segregation. Inspired by his coaches, he continued to Florida A&M, where he excelled academically as a Rhodes Scholar candidate. On the field, the team compiled a 23-7 record, with Riley leading the Rattlers to three Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles.

Drafted in the sixth round by the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals in 1969, Riley switched to the defensive backfield as a cornerback, where he would intercept 65 passes – fifth on the NFL’s all-time list – with five interceptions for touchdowns. He was the only player of the top five not enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.

After completing his NFL career in Cincinnati, in 1986 Riley took over the head coaching duties at Florida A&M, leading them to a 48-39-2 record from 1986 to 1993 and winning two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships. Twice he was Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. He was the school’s athletic director from 1994 to 2002. He served as a dean at Winter Haven High School from 2004 to 2014.

He was elected to more than just the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame. He was a member of the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame, The Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Black College Football Hall of Fame and was named to the Florida High School Athletic Association All-Century Team.