Submitted by Raymond Stefani, Ph.D*
1* California State University, Long Beach, USA
Dr. Raymond Stefani is an emeritus professor of Engineering at the California State University, Long Beach, USA. His more than 120 sports publications are evenly divided between individual and team sports. He seeks a fundamental understanding of the physics, physiology, causes of gender differential performance, rates of improvement, effect of historical events and effects of performance enhancing drugs related to Olympic gold medal performances in athletics (track and field), swimming, rowing and speed skating. He has analyzed Olympic home nation medal advantage He developed a least squared team rating system applied to predicting the outcome of more than 20,000 games of American football, basketball, European soccer, Australian Rules football, and Super Rugby. Home advantage has been studied in those contexts. He has contributed to the understanding of the types and application of 100 international sport rating systems (both for individuals and teams) and their ability to predict the outcome of world and Olympic championship events. He contributed to the millennium edition of the New York Times. He has presented his work to 10 organizations conducting conferences in eight nations on three continents. Dr. Stefani invites collaboration with colleagues from around the world.
In 1946, Kenny Washington reintegrated the National Football League (NFL). In 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball. Those two iconic events initiated an era of opportunity for black athletes wanting to compete at the highest level in professional sports. In fact, both events terminated two interrelated (and largely forgotten) back stories from 1936 to 1947, covered in detail in this paper. The back stories include two second-tier pro football teams, a narrow escape from Honolulu before Pearl Harbor by Robinson and the creation of a rival league to the NFL. Had it not been for the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, Robinson might now be known as an Olympic medalist in the long jump. Had it not been for an ankle injury in 1944, Robinson might now be known as a former professional football player. Had it not been for Kenny Washington’s success in pro football from 1940 to 1945, Robinson might not be known for breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. These back stories form a fascinating, inter-twined chain of events upon which depended the signing of Washington and Robinson.
Key words: integration, pro football, major league baseball, NFL, Kenny Washington, Jackie Robinson
Visitors and locals in Los Angeles are often drawn to Farmers Market with its produce, restaurants and atmosphere. Relatively few will notice a small yet informative kiosk with memorabilia of a time gone by. Photographs show what had been a major adjacent sports venue, Gilmore Stadium. Other photos and memorabilia chronicle long forgotten football teams that played there. Also shown are two football players from those teams who are still remembered today, only one of whom is known for his football exploits. The exhibit shows memorabilia of Kenny Washington who had played for the Hollywood Bears and of Jackie Robinson who had played for the LA Bulldogs, both of which called Gilmore Stadium their home field. It is much more widely known that in 1946 Kenny Washington reintegrated the National Football League (NFL) when he was signed by the Los Angeles Rams which had just relocated from Cleveland, while in 1947 Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball.
Movies and journal papers generally do not mention the facts covered by the material in that kiosk, important as they are. The movie 42 about Jackie Robinson (2) is typical of what most publications reveal about him. For example, the movie covers the difficulties he faced as a minor league baseball player and then as a player for the major league Brooklyn Dodgers. His football career prior to that is largely ignored. Documentarian Ross Greenburg produced the movie Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football which includes excellent coverage of Kenny Washington’s signing with the LA Rams (13). However, his affiliation with the Hollywood Bears prior to 1946 is mentioned in passing as if that was an insignificant part of an irrelevant back story. As denoted by the title of the movie, Kenny Washington’s career has become far less known than Robinson’s. Contrary to the impression given by those two movies, the back stories of Washington and Robinson are highly relevant to their eventual signings in 1946 and 1947 respectively. The goal here is to tell those interrelated back stories.
The term “reintegration” is used for Washington in 1946 because the NFL had formed in 1920 and had employed black players earlier. Further, some backs had played in earlier leagues. For a thoroughly researched list of early black player in sports, with insightful narrative, see the excellent book by C.K. Ross, Outside the Lines (26). Before the NFL formed, four blacks played professional football, the first being Charles Follis in 1904 who played for the Shelby Athletic Club(6, 26). The first three blacks in the NFL were Fritz Pollard in 1919, as player and coach, Robert Marshall in 1919 and Paul Robeson in 1921, later well known as a singer (6, 26). Some 13 blacks played in the NFL from 1920-1933, the last two being Joe Lillard and Ray Kemp (26). No additional players were hired between 1933 and 1946. Documentarian Ross Greenburg, who produced the movie Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football, concluded that George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston (later Washington) Redskins “led the charge and demanded that blacks not be allowed to play in the NFL”(15).
In 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball. Blacks had played organized professional baseball prior to the creation of the American League and National League which collectively comprise Major League Baseball; but, not as part of those leagues after creation. Early black baseball players included J.W “Bud” Fowler in 1872 and brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Weldy Walker in 1884(26).
While the signings of Washington and Robinson initiated an era of opportunity for black athletes wanting to compete at the highest level in professional sports, both events also terminated two interrelated (and largely forgotten) back stories that caused those events to happen in the first place. The back stories will be presented in five phases. First, from 1936-1939, the success of the Los Angeles Bulldogs showed that a Los Angeles pro team could hold its own against the NFL and could draw comparable attendance to that of the NFL. Second, the success of black football players Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and Jackie Robinson at UCLA from 1937-1940 showed that LA fans would come to the Los Angeles Coliseum, the later home of the LA Rams, to view crowd-pleasing players. Third, Kenny Washington became one of the most successful and best known second-tier professional football players in the country from 1940-1945. Fourth, Jackie Robinson (1941-1945) embarked on a pro football career, only to have that career interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and his ensuing military service; after which, he switched to baseball. Kenny Washington’s success on the field and as a box-office attraction strongly influenced the fifth phase from 1945-1947, covering the signing of Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, and Bill Willis in pro football in 1946; followed one year later by the signing of Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball. We now go back in time to 1936 to begin the back stories.
The LA Bulldogs (1936-1939)
The NFL formed with 15 teams in 1920, rose to 22 teams in 1926 and then retrenched to nine teams in 1935 (5, 22). To form schedules with an even number of teams, the NFL assigned a provisional franchise in Los Angeles to Harry Myers in 1936 (12, 14). Myers called his team the Los Angeles Bulldogs. He had a prodigious job ahead of him. He had to select players for a team that did not exist in 1935, find a place to compete, and become competitive enough against the existing NFL teams that the NFL would select them as a permanent member in 1937. Myers nearly accomplished all of those goals. His 1936 Bulldogs played six of the nine NFL teams. The Bulldogs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cardinals, lost to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers (the NFL champion for 1936) and tied the Brooklyn Dodgers (12, 14, 22) for a record of three wins, two loses and one tie. Baseball team names were obviously popular in the early NFL. The Bulldogs played in Gilmore Stadium near today’s Farmers Market in LA. As a fledgling team, they drew a respectable 10,250 fans at home against NFL teams (12, 22) compared to the NFL average in 1936 of 15,111 (18).
At the end of the experiment, the NFL chose among three competing bids: The LA Bulldogs, the Cleveland Rams (then playing in the second of four leagues to be called the American Football League) and a bid from Houston. It was understandable, given the challenges of cross-country travel in 1936, that the NFL awarded the tenth NFL franchise to the Cleveland Rams for 1937, ironically the same team that would move to LA in 1946.
The AFL invited the LA Bulldogs to take the Rams’ place (4, 12, 22), and take that place they did, with remarkable skill for a second-year team. The 1937 Bulldogs became AFL champion, winning all nine AFL games and all seven exhibition games for a 16-0 record (12, 22). One of the AFL franchises still exists, the Cincinnati Bengals. In was not until the 17-0 record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins that a professional team had such a successful year (5). The Bulldogs average attendance in 1937 was 16,500 at Gilmore Stadium against AFL teams (12, 22), compared to the NFL average of 17,510 in 1937 (18).
That AFL folded after the 1937 season: bad luck for the LA Bulldogs but good timing by the Cleveland Rams. The 1938 Bulldogs played as an independent, allowing them to play five games against NFL teams. They defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Rams (in what must have been sweet revenge), lost to the Chicago Bears and tied the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Pirates (12 ,22). Their 1938 home attendance against the NFL averaged 16,250 (12, 22) versus the NFL average of 17,040 (18). In 1939, the Bulldogs lost to the Washington Redskins, bringing their record against the NFL to five wins, four losses, and three ties. Bulldogs’ attendance had closed to nearly that of the NFL by 1938. They had a winning record against eight of the 10 NFL teams (the Bulldogs did not play the Detroit Lions and NY Giants). LA pro football, via the LA Bulldogs, was at a par with the average NFL team in strength and attendance.
The NFL recognized the success of LA pro football by placing the first Pro Bowl game at LA Wrigley Field in early 1939, following the 1938 NFL season (1, 9, 21). The NFL champion NY Giants played a team of NFL all stars. The NFL recognized the LA Bulldogs and their rival, the Hollywood Stars. That Pro Bowl game included three players from the LA Bulldogs, Gordon Gore, Pete Mehringer, and Bill Moore, plus two players from the Hollywood Stars, Owen Hanson and Ernie Smith (1, 9). To further recognize those two LA pro teams, the Pro Bowls following the 1939 and 1940 seasons were played in Gilmore Stadium, home of the Bulldogs and Stars (1, 9, 21). Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought a wartime end to LA Pro Bowls. Meanwhile, at UCLA, black athletes were making a name for themselves and for UCLA.
UCLA Football (1937-1940)
Kenny Washington’s UCLA football career began in 1937, wearing what would be his signature number, 13 (23, 29, 30, 31). Washington played the single-wing halfback position which involved passing and running. The halfback received the long snap directly from center. The single wing halfback had duties as team leader, much like the quarterback in today’s football. He was joined in the backfield by Woody Strode in 1937. Strode led in pass receptions (24, 27). Jackie Robinson joined Washington and Strode as the third black in the UCLA backfield in 1939. The way for black football players at UCLA had been cleared by Sam Storey in 1933 (24).
Jackie led the nation in rushing when he averaged 12.2 yards per carry in 1939 (24). In 1939 and 1940, Robinson led the nation in punt return average (16). His two-year average of 18.8 yards per return ranks fourth in NCAA history. The 1939 Bruins narrowly missed going to the Rose Bowl (24). Both UCLA (6-0-4) and USC (7-0-3) were undefeated, but USC had one less tie. Washington led the nation in total offense in 1939, with 811 yards rushing and 559 yards passing for a total of 1370 yards (7, 17). Kenny scored 30 points and played 580 of a possible 600 minutes (24). He was awarded the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy, signifying the best college football player of 1939 (13).
At the end of the 1939 season, Washington was named to six All America teams, five on the second team and one on the third team (10). It is rather curious that the nation’s total offense leader had been named to zero first-team All Americas. The total offense leader of 1937, Byron “Whizzer” White of Colorado (17), later to become a Supreme Court Justice, and the total offense leader of 1938, Davey O’Brian of TCU (17), both were chosen first-team on seven All America teams (10). Both were white.
Robinson inherited Washington’s single wing halfback position for the 1940 season, his last season at UCLA. Jackie gained 383 yards rushing and 444 yards passing (24). He scored 36 points (24).
Washington, Strode and Robinson were talented in several sports. Washington lettered in football and baseball. Strode lettered in football and track, where he was an accomplished decathlete. Robinson lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track, the first to letter in four sports in UCLA history. Ironically, Robinson’s worst sport was baseball, belying what was to come (25, 26). Robinson was the 1940 NCAA long jump champion with a jump of 24 ft. 10 ½ in. (25, 26), six inches short of bronze medal status in the 1936 Olympics behind Jesse Owens (USA) and Luz Long (Germany). Unfortunately for Robinson, the 1940 Tokyo Olympics were cancelled due to World War 2. Given that Jackie’s brother Mack had earned a silver medal in the 200 m run in 1936, Jackie’s rivalry with Mack would likely have driven him to earn a sport on the 1940 Olympic team, had there been one. With focused training on the long jump, we might have known Jackie as an Olympic medalist. Robinson led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in basketball scoring in 1940 and 1941 (16). As mentioned above, he led the nation in rushing and punt returns in football. In baseball, Washington achieved batting averages of 0.454 and 0.350 (7) while Robinson only batted 0.097 for his one season in that sport (16, 25).
Three hugely talented black athletes, Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and Jackie Robinson, would graduate into a world of professional football and baseball, devoid of black athletes at the highest level. Each would overcome. Each would sign a pro contract and play at the highest level seven years after their last UCLA football game.
Kenny Washington’s Pro Football Career (1940-1945)
Kenny played in the College All-Star game of 1939 in Chicago versus the NFL champion Green Bay Packers. George Halas asked him to remain in Chicago so Halas could try to arrange a contract with the Chicago Bears (13, 15). Halas was unable to budge George Preston Marshall from Marshall’s stance against blacks in the NFL (13, 15). The best offensive player in the USA returned to LA without a pro contract.
Through the 1939 season, the Hollywood Stars had played second fiddle to the LA Bulldogs. Paul Schissler, a former coach with the NFL Chicago Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers decided to reverse the pecking order. He purchased the Hollywood Stars and renamed them the Hollywood Bears, showing his intention to leverage the popularity and success of UCLA Bruins Kenny Washington and Woody Strode by signing them to Hollywood Bears contracts. Schissler coached the team as well.
A new league formed in 1940, the Pacific Coast Professional Football League, or PCPFL. Charter members were the Bulldogs, Bears, and teams from Oakland, Phoenix, and San Diego (11). The Bulldog-Bears pecking order did change. In 1940, the Bulldogs and Bears split four games against each other. Otherwise undefeated, the Bulldogs (7-2-1) and Bears (6-2-0) had identical percentages of 75%, counting a tie as ½ of a win. The PCPFL narrowly awarded the league championship to the Bulldogs by not counting ties, resulting in percentages of 77.8% to 75.0% for the Bulldogs and Bears respectively (11).
In 1941, Kenny Washington’s Hollywood Bears dominated the PCPFL and the Bulldogs with an undefeated 8-0-0 record, compared to the Bulldogs placing a distant second with 4-4-0 (11). Schissler, Washington and Strode had moved the Bears to the top. The Bears played a post-season game against the champion Columbus Bullies from the third of four leagues to be called the AFL. The Bears won 21-9 (11, 22).
Schissler was generous and fair when it came to player salaries. He made Washington and Strode two of the highest paid pro football players in the country, including the NFL. The economic success of the Bears must have been obvious to the NFL administration. Don Hutson, the NFL’s star player, earned $175 per game (26). Schissler awarded Strode $100 per games plus a percentage of gate receipts. Washington received $200 per game plus a percentage of gate receipts. Kenny earned as much as $500 per game (26). Schissler advertised his games as “The Hollywood Bears with Kenny Washington versus…” (26).
Washington’s knee surgeries rendered him ineligible for military service (23, 29, 30, 31). Those injures also caused him to miss the 1942 season. Strode returned to the Hollywood Bears in 1942. Schissler then entered military service, including a stint coaching the March Field football team (11). The Hollywood Bears were inactive in 1943 and 1944. Strode served in the Air Corps in 1943 and 1944 (28) while Washington contributed to the war effort by touring with the USO during 1942 and 1943 (29).
Since the Hollywood Bears were inactive, Washington was free to lead the San Francisco Clippers (7-3-0) to second place in the AFL in 1944 (11). In 1945, he and Strode resumed their partnership with the Bears, winning the PCPFL championship with an 8-2-0 record (11). In 1945, at the age of 27, six years after playing for UCLA, he led the PCPFL in scoring with 68 points, was second in rushing with 542 yards, fourth in passing with 765 yards and second in total offense with 1307 yards (11). His total offense yardage in pro football in 1945 was close to his national best 1370 yards at UCLA in 1939 against college competition.
Washington had led champions or runners-up and drew crowds wherever he went: UCLA, the Hollywood Bears, the San Francisco Clippers, and again the Hollywood Bears. Strode had been his reliable pass receiver and friend at UCLA and with the Hollywood Bears. By 1945, Washington was arguably the most dominant pro football player in the country, outside of the NFL. Meanwhile his former UCLA teammate Jackie Robinson had also embarked on a pro career.
Jackie Robinson’s Pro Career (1941-1945)
Jackie Robinson left UCLA in 1941 to help support his family (26). His prospects for a professional career appeared to be best in football. He had offers from the LA Bulldogs and also from a racially integrated team, the Honolulu Bears, who offered more money. He spent most of the ill-fated fall of 1941 in Honolulu, earning $100 per game (8), a good salary, considering that Don Hutson, the NFL’s star player, earned $175 per game (26). Robinson was advertised as the Bears’ best player (8). The team played some games near Pearl Harbor. Robinson had a part-time construction job near Pearl Harbor. Fate was kind to Robinson and potential football fans in that the Bears’ season ended on December 3, 1941 (8). Four days later, a stadium full of football fames might have been in the path of Japanese fighter-bombers on Sunday, December 7, 1941. As it was, Robinson had boarded the Lurline cruise ship on December 5, 1941. He was a day and a half at sea when the Japanese attacked (8).
He arrived back in LA in time to play what would be the last game of the season for the LA Bulldogs, against Kenny Washington’s Hollywood Bears (22). On December 21, 1941, Robinson led his Bulldogs to an early 10-3 lead. Washington responded by leading his Hollywood Bears to two touchdowns and a 17-10 win (16). A Robinson-lead Bulldog rivalry with a Washington-led Bears could have been lucrative for both teams in 1942. We might well have known Robinson for his football career, had fate not already intervened in the form of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. War had been declared. Robinson entered military service, interrupting his football career.
After his military commitment had been completed, Robinson returned to the LA Bulldogs for the 1944 season. He played in the first three games, held on October 8, 15, and 22, 1944 (22). He had a limited role when the Bulldogs lost to the San Jose Mustangs (16). He played most of the game in a 33-13 win against the Hollywood Wolves (16). Finally, an ankle injury on the first play against the San Diego Bombers ended his football career (16).
It was obvious that baseball would provide a longer career, given that Jackie would have been familiar with Washington’s many football injuries. He switched to baseball, playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League (25). Branch Rickey then signed him in 1945 to play in the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league system with Montreal. Rickey had played baseball in college against Charles Follis, mentioned earlier as the first black pro football player. Rickey and Follis were also teammates on the Shelby Athletic Club pro football team. Rickey admired the way Follis had ignored all the racial taunting. By his courageous action, Follis brought admiration from his detractors (26). Rickey asked Robinson, later to be the first black pro major league baseball player, to emulate the self-assuredness and control shown by Follis, the first black pro football player (26). Sadly, Follis had died of pneumonia at the age of 31. Rickey closely monitored Robinson’s career, intending to have it last much longer.
We have gone back in time to 1936 and have examined the years from 1936 to 1945. We can now place the signings of 1945 and 1947 into context.
The Signings (1945-1947)
During WW2, about 900 football players interrupted their potential pro careers to join the military (13). By 1945, troops had been coming home in large numbers, including those 900, some of whom had played football for various military base teams. For example, undefeated Iowa Pre-Flight was voted the Associated Press (AP) second best team in 1943, in a poll of service teams merged with college teams, while Great Lakes Naval Station was ranked sixth (5). In 1944, 12 of the AP’s top 20 were military teams. By 1945, an ample supply of football players was then available to create a new pro football league. Arch Ward of the Chicago Tribune is credited with starting what would become the eight-team All America Football Conference, the AAFC, intending to directly challenge the NFL starting in 1946 (3,13).
Based on future success in both the AAFC and NFL by what would come to be called the Cleveland Browns, one of the most important decisions the AAFC made was to award a franchise to Cleveland and to hire Paul Brown as coach (3, 13, 15, 19). Brown had won six Ohio state championships at Washington High School in Massillon Ohio, had led Ohio State to the college national championship in 1942, and had coached successfully at the Great Lakes Naval Station from 1944-1945 (19). Brown’s popularity and proven record was likely to bankrupt the Cleveland Rams who had never drawn well, even though the team was 1945 NFL champion.
Following on the heels of Kenny Washington’s success with the San Francisco Clippers, the AAFC created the San Francisco 49ers franchise. The AAFC placed a team in LA, the Dons, to tap a market that the LA Bulldogs and Washington’s Hollywood Bears had shown to be profitable. The NFL had to act quickly. It was an economic necessity to move the Cleveland Rams and to counter the AAFC’s LA Dons. Moving Dan Reeve’s Rams to LA made economic sense. The NFL needed to sell the LA public on the Rams. The Rams, in turn, needed to convince the LA Coliseum Commission, a public entity, to award them a lease allowing the Rams to play in a much larger venue than the two used by the LA Bulldogs and Hollywood Bears, LA Wrigley Field and Gilmore Stadium.
Roger Jessup and his fellow LA Coliseum Commission members were fans of Kenny Washington (13). Washington had played in the LA Coliseum while at UCLA. They were familiar with his pro success and that the NFL had a whites-only policy. The Commission concluded that a major pro team in LA would only have credibility if Kenny Washington was on that team. Black sports writers, including Halley Harding who had played on Fritz Pollard’s Brown Bomber football team in the 1930s, reminded the Commissioners of another issue (13). Public policy prohibited discrimination in the use of the LA Coliseum as managed by the Commission. Harding specifically brought up Washington as a possible hire (26). On January 15, 1946, the Commission told Rams General Manager Chili Walsh that Kenny Washington would have to be given a tryout for the Rams team if they wanted to play in the Coliseum. Walsh and the NFL owners had no choice but to agree. The Rams then hired Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946 and, at Kenny’s insistence, Woody Strode.
Washington’s and Strode’s first game for the Rams would be the annual College All-Star game, to be played on August 23, 1946 between the defending NFL champion and a team of college all stars. The Cleveland Rams were the defending NFL champions, playing as the LA Rams. An article appeared on page 14 of the July 20, 1946 Chicago Tribune intended to publicize that upcoming game. Edward Prell entitled his article “All-Stars Face Ken Washington of UCLA Fame.” Prell wrote “On the coast, the 195 pound athlete has been hailed for years as one of the greatest all-pro backs of all time.” The passing combination of Washington and Strode was referred to as the “Goal Dust Twins.” The article mentioned the hiring of Washington, bringing the NFL its first black player since 1933. Such was the now-public perception of Kenny Washington and the LA Rams. Washington had left Chicago after the 1939 College All-Star Game without a pro contract. He was about to return, advertised as one of the best pros ever, based largely on his reputation with the Hollywood Bears.
The same page of the Chicago Tribune mentions the continuing litigation between the Rams and the Browns, “Rams-Browns Football War Goes to Court.” Both teams were jockeying for position for the 1946 season, each with an eye on the other’s acquisitions. The Rams had hired two black players in March, both of whom were about to play in August. Paul Brown had wanted to hire two blacks: Bill Willis, a lineman, whom he had coached at Ohio State and Marion Motley, a back, whom he had coached at Great Lakes (26). Brown had been concerned about AAFC disapproval. Now that the AAFC needed to counter the prominently-advertised presence of Kenny Washington, Brown dismissed his concerns and invited Motley and Willis into training camp in August 1946, within days of the College All-Star Game (26). Both were hired. By August 1946, the number of blacks playing at the highest level of pro football jumped from zero to four.
Meanwhile, Branch Rickey was closely monitoring Jackie Robinson’s progress as a minor league player in the Brooklyn Dodger minor league system (13). Rickey later confided to Marion Motley that when Rickey saw Motley and Willis play for the Cleveland Browns in 1946 without incidence against the AAFC football Brooklyn Dodgers that Rickey partly owned, that gave Rickey the courage to hire Jackie Robinson to play for the baseball Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 (13). The Major League Baseball color barrier was broken when Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
The back stories from 1936 to 1947 leading up to the signing of Kenny Washington in 1946 and Jackie Robinson in 1947 have been told. We now put the elements of those stores into cause-effect sequence.
In 1936, the NFL rejected the LA Bulldogs NFL franchise bid in favor of the Cleveland Rams. That led Harry Myers to show that the Bulldogs were the equal of the NFL. That led Paul Schissler to hire Kenny Washington and Woody Strode to show that his Hollywood Bears were the equal of the Bulldogs. Washington used that opportunity to lead all of his pro teams to become a winner or runner up: the Hollywood Bears, the SF Clippers, and again the Hollywood Bears. He was arguably the dominant football player in second-tier pro football. Arch Ward formed the AAFC. That league chose Paul Brown to lead the Cleveland franchise. Paul Brown’s imminent success with the Cleveland Browns drove the Cleveland Rams to LA. The LA Coliseum Commission strongly implied that the Rams had to hire Kenny Washington to be able to play in the LA Coliseum. The Rams hired Washington who insisted that Strode also be hired. With Washington and Strode about to play their first games in August 1946, Paul Brown hired blacks Marion Motley and Bill Willis to play on what would be a highly successful team. When Rickey saw Motley and Willis play for the Cleveland Browns in 1946 without incident against the AAFC football Brooklyn Dodgers that Rickey partly owned, that gave Rickey the courage to hire Jackie Robinson to play for the baseball Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. That hiring would overshadow the story of Washington, Strode, Motley, and Willis leading to the title of Ross Greenburg’s excellent documentary, the Forgotten Four: the Integration of Professional Football. Ironically, Robinson’s legacy lies with arguably his worst sport at UCLA, baseball. His potential as an Olympic medalist in the long jump was trumped by the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics. His promising pro football career was cut short by Pearl Harbor in 1941, by ensuing military service, and by an ankle injury in 1944.
If any links in that chain of events had been broken, there might not have been signings of Washington in 1946 and of Robinson in 1947. Opportunities for blacks in sports might have been far different in today’s world. Fortunately, the historical facts just related, thanks in large part to Kenny Washington, opened a world of opportunity for today’s black athletes.
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