|Kenny Washington - First Black NFL Player in the Modern Era|
Kenny Washington was a professional football player who played running back for the Los Angeles Rams. Sadly, many people have forgotten Kenny Washington as his career only lasted three seasons. Jackie Robinson is celebrated for breaking the color barrier in professional baseball; however, Washington is too often forgotten even though he broke the color barrier in the National Football League a year before Robinson did in baseball. He signed his contract on March 21, 1946 at the age of 28 years old. This was after the NFL did not allow black players for the previous 12 seasons and after Washington had already undergone several knee surgeries. A big reason Washington was signed was because Los Angeles would not allow the Rams to play at the Coliseum if they discriminated against blacks and minorities.
Washington played all three running back positions during his three years in the NFL, left and right halfback and the fullback position. He was also used as a defensive back because of his great coverage skills and tackling ability. During his short career, Washington was an explosive player who wasn’t used nearly as much as running backs today. The 6-1 212 pound Washington ran 140 times for 859 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, caught 15 passes for 227 yards and scored 9 offensive touchdowns.
Much of Washington’s athletic prowess probably was passed on from his father. His father played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. As a result, his father was often absent because of his baseball and acting career. As a result, Kenny spent a lot of time with his uncle, Rocky Washington after becoming a cop, eventually became the highest ranking African-American in the Los Angeles Police Department during that era. With his father and uncle doing big things, it is only natural the Kenny Washington would have a significant place in NFL history, following in their footsteps.
Washington’s Place in History
Sadly, Kenny Washington has been a forgotten hero. Why? It is difficult to say. One guess might be that Marion Motley and Bill Willis signed with the Cleveland Browns of the All American Football League the same year, and they both went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, they were not in the NFL at the time of Washington’s signing. The National Football League should do something to honor Kenny Washington. His career wasn’t Hall of Fame worthy, but they could have some sort of shrine for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for breaking the color barrier. Maybe his home town could name a high school football stadium after him as well. It is sad that Washington isn’t better remembered. At least now, if someone asks who was the first African-American NFL player in the modern era, you will have an answer.
By A. Goodin