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Before Jackie Robinson, four broke NFL color line

Jackie Robinson wasn’t the only black pioneer in professional sports, just as Billie Jean King wasn’t the sole trailblazer among women. For some reason, our society needs to anoint exactly one martyred saint per race or gender, even though many others broke through similar barriers.

For those who have forgotten or never knew, it is important to learn the names Bill Willis, Marion Motley, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. Those were the four black players who smashed pro football’s color barrier in 1946, re-integrating the sport against the wishes of Washington’s racist owner, George Preston Marshall, and paving the way for Jackie Robinson a year later.

Playing in both the All-America Football League and then the NFL, Willis and Motley helped win five straight championships in Cleveland for Paul Brown — who was the Branch Rickey of football, only more so. Washington and Strode toiled less effectively on the West Coast, where the Rams were more or less coerced by the Los Angeles Coliseum into signing them and isolated those two players on and off the field.

“It’s important for the kids of the day, people of my generation, to learn more about the history of football,” said Donovan McNabb, a pioneer black quarterback in his own right and a supporter of the enlightening documentary, “Forgotten Four,” to premiere Sept. 23 on Epix. “We hear so much about Jackie Robinson, how he broke the color barrier, about the NBA, how it’s changed. We’ve seen the change in soccer and other sports, but in the No. 1 American sport, our game, we need to learn more about it.”




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3 thoughts on “Before Jackie Robinson, four broke NFL color line

  1. MOBig

    YEAH, just what would black males do if the mean ol white man didn’t gift him his integration.

    There was absolutely NOTHING in the black communities, except boredom, poverty, despair, desolation, diseases from unsanitary conditions produced by the black man.

    Black man built no towns (from the ground up), he established no cities, do industries, no tax bases, built no urban schools, didn’t pay for his urban schools thru his tax base, and built NO urban housing. The black man was supposed to do ALL of this. He did NONE of it. And why should he! when he could just BULLY his way into another people’s living arrangements.

    One people (white people) literally gave it ALL to another – UNGRATEFUL, WHINING – people.

    White males NEVER should hv submitted to the black BULLIES… Blacks MUST have a homeland in America.

  2. Diva _ loxx

    Wow, MoBig, what a coward you are hiding behind a shadow. For the record why don’t you do some soul searching of your own and there were many contributions that AA men and women made to this great ole big white society world we live in. We were not given any thing, we worked and toiled are butt off, breaking barriers and constantly fighting for equality. Smdh at such bigotry


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