Did you know that the NFL desegregated one year before Major League Baseball? I didn’t. Kenny Washington and Woodrow Strode, college football stars who had played at UCLA with Jackie Robinson, were signed by the LA Rams in 1946. Both were past their prime, but Washington nonetheless led the league in yards-per-carry during his first season.
But unlike Robinson, neither man is in the Hall of Fame. Neither has had his number retired. Neither one has statues put up in their honor. They are mostly forgotten.
Why? Pro football wasn’t a big sport in 1946, so that may be part of it. And the two don’t have a Branch Rickey-ish story behind them. The Rams brought them on board unwillingly under pressure from their new home:
They needed a home and wanted to play at the L.A. Coliseum. But the stadium was publicly funded — owned by taxpayers black and white alike — and black sportswriters in Los Angeles successfully hammered local officials into requiring the team to integrate if the Rams were to play there.
Come to think of it, that’s as good a story as the whole Branch Rickey thing. It might even be a better one, especially after Hollywood got its hands on it.