How Kenny Washington broke the NFL’s color barrier... and why you’ve never heard of him
28 mins | Feb 6, 2021
He became the first Black player in major league sports — a year before Jackie Robinson. Kenny Washington's life is certainly one story to listen to, and yet even his own kids never fully knew it. Born in LA in 1918, Washington went on to play football for UCLA, eventually making it to the NFL with the Rams, who had just moved from Cleveland to the West Coast in 1946 — an unprecedented achievement for a black sportsman at the time. Pushing past brutal racism through most of his life, Washington's inspiring career has been somewhat shadowed in the history books. In this piece for Narratively, Geoff Graser tells us more about him. "In 1939, Kenny Washington was the college football star, leading the NCAA in total yardage and winning the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy as most outstanding player. Still, NFL teams refused him. And although he eventually became the first Black player to go pro in any of America’s big four sports post–World War II, he’s the only player among those who broke the color barrier in these major league sports who has not been inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame. A shameful era of football still hides in a whitewashed history inflated with more than its share of Lambeau and Lombardi legends, rendering an early civil rights hero a real-life Invisible Man."