Hall of Fame honoring four Black players who re-integrated pro football in 1946

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Four Black players who ended decades of segregation when they played pro football in 1946 will be honored this summer by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The four players – Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who re-integrated the NFL with the Rams, and Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Browns, who in 1946 became the first Black players in the All-America Football Conference – will receive the Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award.

Although the NFL had a small number of Black players in the 1920s and early 1930s, pro football had been segregated for more than a decade until Washington, Strode, Willis and Motley all played in the 1946 season, the year before Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall President Jim Porter said. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation. Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever. ”

The Pioneer Award has been given out by the Hall of Fame only 10 times since it was established in 1972. It is named for Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs who in 1920 hosted the first meeting of the clubs that became the National Football League.

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