Exhibit Spotlight – Post-WWII Reintegration of Pro Football
Although the end of WWII brought a new sense of social consciousness, segregation and discrimination remained in much of the United States. However, employment opportunities did begin to open up for African American in some sectors. Sports was a visible example. In 1946, pro football reintegrated, ending its 12-year “color barrier.”
Two African Americans, Frederick “Fritz” Pollard and Robert “Rube” Marshall, played in the NFL when the league was founded in 1920. During the next 14 seasons, only 13 African Americans total would appear on league rosters.
In 1946, the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Browns of the rival All-America Football Conference each signed two black players. The Rams signed former UCLA halfback, Kenny Washington and end, Woody Strode. The Browns signed Nevada fullback, Marion Motley and Ohio State middle guard, Bill Willis. Washington and Strode played semipro football prior to signing with the Rams and age and injury limited their NFL careers. Motley and Willis went on to become superstars and were eventually elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.