Black History Spotlight: Kenny Washington


There have been many African Americans who have made a significant contribution to society. Without them, many of the luxuries that we as a people enjoy today such as voting, going to school, being doctors and lawyers or playing football would not be possible. They went through the hardships to make this happen so future generations would not go through what they went through. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, ” I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” One thing that many African Americans dominate today and love is the sport of football. Over the years, there have been many men who went on to become some of the National Football League’s (NFL) best players and Hall of Famers. One has to wonder who paved the way for black men to be able to play in the NFL. That man would be no other than Kenny Washington.

When you hear about Black History, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcom X will come up repeatedly. These are the first names that come to mind. Kenny Washington is not a name that would be widely known, yet he is responsible for breaking one of the biggest barriers for African Americans. Washington was a football player back in the 1940’s. During this time, racism was at its peak and minorities were not allowed in the NFL. The reason was because of a 12 year ban that did not allow African Americans to play. This was a rule that George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, had put into place. We can see how far African Americans have come because today if an African American excels at football, he will get drafted. Washington, at the time, was the best player at his position. He played for the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) as a Running back who conquered on the field and was the best of the best. During his time at UCLA, he had a total of 3,206 rushing yards in his career. Not only was he a good Running back but he was also a very good Defensive back as well. Washington was multi-talented but remained undrafted due to his race.

Fortunately, he did not give up on his dream. After going undrafted by any NFL team in 1940, he played for smaller teams in lesser known football Leagues. He did not let the opinions of others stop him from doing what he loved to do. His hard work and patience eventually paid off in the end. Washington finally got the chance to play for the Cleveland Rams as they were the first NFL team to allow African Americans to play in the League. People should be reminded the Ram’s owners did not do this because they wanted to. They only allowed African Americans on the team because the city of Cleveland and its citizens kept pressuring them about it and they did not want a bad image attached to their organization.

Washington went on to play for the Cleveland Rams for three seasons. He was number four in NFL rushing yards in his second season with a staggering 7.4 yards per carry. Throughout his career, he had a total of 859 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. Even though he did not get to play in the League for a long time, he still made history in the three seasons he had with the Rams and all of the accomplishments he made at UCLA. Washington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956 and his number 13 jersey was retired from UCLA.

Washington being drafted to the Cleveland Rams helped open doors for many other African Amercian men to pursue their dream of being a pro football player. His drive and determination to be somebody and live out his dreams is what broke the racial barrier in football. Due to racial discrimination, he did not get the career he deserved to have but the football players of today have a chance to make something out of themselves so his hardships do not go in vain.