Only two of the four players “reintegrated” the NFL.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has decided to honor what it has termed the “Forgotten Four,” Marion Motley, Woody Strode, Kenny Washington and Bill Willis who “reintegrated” pro football in 1946. Missing from the Canton, Ohio shrine’s announcement was the circumstances that led to the reintegration of football. Motley and Willis signed contracts with Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns of the All America Football Conference while the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission forced Cleveland Rams owner Daniel Reeves to hire negroes if Reeves wanted to relocate his National Football League Cleveland business to Los Angeles in 1946. The NFL did not sign black players to contracts from 1934 through 1945. It is believed that Boston Redskins owner George Preston Marshall convinced his fellow owners to put up a color barrier after the 1933 season.
Strode and Washington did play pro football prior to 1946 in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League. Another player in that league was Jackie Robinson. Reeves ended up in Los Angeles after agreeing to the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission’s mandate but his fellow NFL owners were initially against the move. Strode and Washington were not accepted by their Rams teammates or opposition players. Willis and Motley did not play for the Browns in a game in Miami as Paul Brown left them home because of death threats. Willis and Motley eventually were voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The National Football League owners thought negros could not play quarterback, center or middle linebacker because those positions needed intelligence so negro athletes would be switched to other positions. There was a quota on the number of negro players per team, generally four. Marshall, who by his own estimation was a racist, moved his team from Boston to Washington and he was the last NFL owner to hire negro players in 1962.
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