The Keyshawn Johnson historical past lesson started with a query. In 2020, Newsday reporter Bob Glober wished to jot down a guide about Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who each signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 breaking an efficient ban on black gamers within the NFL.
Glauber thought he’d ask Johnson, who was an outspoken member of the Jets within the late ’90s when Glauber lined the staff, about them. Johnson, like each gamers, is a local of Los Angeles, though he performed school soccer at USC lengthy after each Washington and Strode starred on the identical 1939 UCLA staff as Jackie Robinson.
Nonetheless, Johnson stated he had no concept how vital they had been as two of the 4 black gamers to interrupt the NFL colour barrier. He did not even know that the NFL house owners had made an settlement with the gents to not signal black gamers that lasted from 1934 to 1946. Johnson realized that the ban, Johnson realized, was solely damaged after Los enterprise and journalists lobbied Los Angeles on the Rams to signal Washington and Strode in 1946. Invoice Willis and Marion Motley joined the Cleveland Browns that very same yr.
Johnson’s lack of knowledge was an indication of how little the NFL did to rejoice the gamers. However that may change on Saturday, when the Skilled Soccer Corridor of Fame will award its flagship award to households of gamers at its annual honoring ceremony.
It would not have occurred with out Johnson and Glauber, who lobbied the corridor for the tribute and wrote “The Forgotten First: Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Invoice Willis and The Breaking of the NFL Colour Barrier,” which was launched in 2021.
In a telephone interview, Johnson and Glauber spoke about why the historical past of the so-called largely forgotten 4, the consequences of the NFL’s racist previous and the influence of awarding the 4 main gamers their due, stays unrecognized.
This interview has been calmly edited for readability and depth.
Keyshawn, you wrote that you just knew nothing about Washington or Strode regardless that you performed school soccer in the identical L.A. Memorial Coliseum that they did once they attended UCLA
Kishon Johnson You understand, when you concentrate on it if you develop up, if you speak about African American communities or black colleges, there are solely 4 blacks that you just speak about in historical past: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman. I imply, it is very fundamental. Jackie Robinson in Sports activities. Jesse Owens sprinkled in sports activities and a little bit of Arthur Ashe. There isn’t a actual deep dive into historical past. And after we go to school, it is rinsed off and over once more. They are going to train us all about white historical past.
So when Bob introduced this to my consideration, it piqued my curiosity as a result of it was in my very own yard, inside blocks of the place I grew up. I had no data of it as a result of it wasn’t talked about. There’s a monument on the Kenny Washington Coliseum. However I do not know if there was on the Rose Bowl. I simply do not bear in mind seeing it in any respect, and go to a whole lot of video games there.
Probably the most compelling sections of the guide was dialogue of the implicit ban on hiring black gamers. You level to George Preston Marshall, the racial concessionaire in Washington, as main Prohibition, however you discover the opposite house owners went with him.
Johnson It by no means occurred with only one man. You’ll be able to’t name everybody a racist, however if you tolerate, ignore, and switch your head the opposite approach, you might be responsible. You might be simply as incorrect as those that began it. That is the case in skilled sports activities and politics at this time. Identical stuff, completely different years.
For many years, Main League Baseball has celebrated Jackie Robinson and confronted the ugly legacy of that league’s colour barrier. Why did it take the NFL so lengthy to do the identical?
Johnson On the time, baseball was the primary sport in America when Jackie Robinson was making his deal. Whereas in soccer, you had Fritz Pollard [Pollard was the first Black head coach in pro football and won a championship as a player for the Akron Pros in 1920.] Then he stopped at a time when school soccer and baseball had been greater. The league tends to get a whole lot of issues incorrect after which attempt to appropriate them later, so it is not out of the sector that it may have simply flown over their heads.
Bob Glauber This isn’t a very straight story, banning black gamers. And now, black gamers make up practically 70 p.c of the complete NFL rosters. The league didn’t cowl itself in glory with this story.
Nonetheless, after we went to the league and type of regarded for evaluation and opinion, beginning with Roger Goodell, he owned it. “This story is true, we can’t change it and now we have to just accept it,” he stated.
The 4 gamers, that they had disparate careers: some lasted longer. Some lasted, in actual fact, for a short while. Do any of their private tales resonate with you, Kishon?
Johnson It simply comes right down to how a few of their teammates are handled, good or unhealthy. These tales at all times stick to me of how individuals like George Preston Marshall handled individuals in a vindictive method, but he nonetheless managed to have a staff and wished black gamers to serve him. For me, it is thoughts boggling. On the similar time, these guys are nonetheless combating via it and never letting it personal them or take their spirits away from doing the issues they wish to do, which is to play skilled sports activities. Mainly getting the black ball, Motley could not play or prepare within the NFL, however he saved combating via it. That perseverance, that psychological toughness is all about me.
Race stays a central rigidity within the NFL with a Brian Flores lawsuit alleging discrimination in hiring, racial bias within the settlement of concussions and criticism of getting too few staff house owners of colour. So will these 4 Corridor of Fame honorees change the dynamic?
Glauber This appears simply an emotional conclusion to their story as a result of the Corridor of Fame honors them. However for me, it is actually a begin to elevating consciousness of who they’re, what they did and why they had been so vital as a result of they are not family names like Jackie Robinson. I do not know if they are going to be. However they need to be.