By Don Valentine
The N.F.L. has made a huge production of the anniversary of its 100 year in existence. Congratulations are deserved for supplanting Baseball and becoming America’s national past time. What is not apologized for is the 12 years from 1934 to 1946 when there were no Black players. No, not one!
What is ironic is a recent study from the league. At the start of the 2014 season, NFL surveys revealed that the league was approximately 68% African American and about 28% white, with the remaining 4% comprising Asian/Pacific Islander, non-white Hispanics, and those preferring a Mixed Race category.
For 12 years some of the most famous owners in the leagues past [George “Papa-Bear” Halas, Art Rooney and Wellington Mara] had an unspoken rule to not let those Negroes play in their league! Kenny Washington
Kenny Washington was the 1st Black man to break the color line in the N.F.L. Washington attended U.C.L.A., where he was a member of both the Bruins’ baseball and football teams. As a baseball player, Washington was rated better than his teammate Jackie Robinson. One story has it that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher wanted to offer Washington a contract to play for the team, but only if he went to Puerto Rico first, which Washington refused to do.
In football, his position was tailback, and he often passed as much as he rushed. Washington rushed for 9,975 yards in his college career, a school record for 56 years. He was one of four African American players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, the others being Woody Strode, Robinson, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the four backfield players that year. This was a rarity to have so many African Americans when only a few dozen at all played on college football teams. The Bruins played eventual conference and national champion USC to a 0-0 tie with the 1940 Rose Bowl on the line. It was the first UCLA–USC rivalry football game with national implications. UCLA teammates have commented how strong Washington was when confronted with racial slurs and discrimination.
Washington was the first Bruin to lead the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the school’s football program in 1939.
Now you know who opened the door for Blacks into the N.F.L.!