When Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts faced each other in Sunday’s thrilling showdown, they became the first two Black quarterbacks to oppose each other on the Super Bowl stage — and it didn’t happen until the 57th iteration of the game. It was a significant milestone, to be sure, but it also might have called to mind the many other Black football players who put in the time to deal with adversity and significant challenges before Mahomes and Hurts, including Fritz Pollard, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Doug Williams.
There’s also one name that, according to Johnathan Franklin, has flown too far under the radar.
“Telling Kenny Washington’s story is long overdue,” said Franklin, Rams director of social justice and football development (and a former NFL running back), in a phone interview Wednesday. “There’s never a perfect moment to tell his story, but when you think of the reach we have today with social media, and in this moment at the height of social justice nationally, it will have a greater impact than it would have had 10 or 15 years ago.”
Growing up in Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood just outside of downtown Los Angeles, Washington led his high school to its most recent city championship in football in 1935 before becoming the first All-American football player in UCLA history in 1939. He eventually signed with the Los Angeles Rams on March 21, 1946, re-integrating the NFL after a ban on Black players that lasted from 1934 through 1945.
The Los Angeles Rams are doing their part this February — in celebration of Black History Month — to make sure the story of Washington, who died in 1971, reaches as many people as possible by helping to produce a powerful film. Kingfish: The Story of Kenny Washington, described in a release announcing the film as a “docustyle short,” includes the voices of Washington’s family members and coaches and past players from the Rams. It premiered Wednesday evening at The Miracle Theater in Inglewood, California.
As historic as Washington signing with the Rams was, one seemingly unknown facet of this story is that Washington broke the NFL’s modern-era color barrier a full year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson, who played baseball and football with Washington at UCLA, is honored by the MLB every year on April 15.
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com