In what kind of peace is that supposed to leave a man? Pastor L.L. White addressed the question in his eulogy, invoking St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians: "You live in a world of crooked and mean people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky."
Pete Fierle oversees education programs for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He knows well the obscurity that shrouds the story of the game's reintegration in the modern era. "My 11-year-old son could tell you Jackie Robinson's name but not Kenny Washington's or Marion Motley's," Fierle says. Thus, the Hall hangs most of the tale of pro football's desegregation on Paul Brown's addition of Motley and Bill Willis to the Browns in 1946. Those events came after the Rams' signings of Washington and Strode, but they are stories of principle, vision and courage. It's a narrative more in the Rickey-Robinson mold and, Fierle points out, easier for visitors to get a handle on.
Problem is, Motley and Willis didn't integrate the NFL. They integrated the AAFC. Washington and Strode integrated the NFL. League owners remained reliably reactionary even after the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings lost Super Bowl IV to the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, who fielded more black starters than white. Not until Doug Williams led the Redskins to a Super Bowl title in 1988 did a starting black NFL quarterback become less than remarkable. And not until a renegade owner, Oakland's Al Davis, hired Art Shell in 1989 did the NFL get its first black head coach since Pollard.
The sad fact is, the NFL's journey to integration didn't have to take place at all. If only the league had left well enough alone, its history would be a proud one. Instead those 13 years of segregation—ended only when the NFL gave ground grudgingly to a howling sportswriter and a public servant—diminish the league to a level of a small-minded steward of some waiting room or lunch counter.
That gracelessness wasn't lost on the key players. "They didn't take Kenny because of his ability," Strode said. "They didn't take me on my ability. It was shoved down their throats."
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