Keyshawn Johnson’s historical past lesson started with a query. In 2020, Bob Faithr, a Newsday reporter, needed to write down a ebook about Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, whose signings to the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 broke an efficient ban on Black gamers within the NFL
Faithr figured he would ask Johnson, who had been an outspoken member of the Jets within the late 90s when Faithr coated the staff, about them. Johnson, like each gamers, is a Los Angeles native, although he performed school soccer at USC lengthy after Washington and Strode have been standouts on the identical 1939 UCLA staff as Jackie Robinson.
But Johnson stated he had no thought of their significance as two of the 4 Black gamers to interrupt the NFL’s colour barrier. He didn’t even know that NFL homeowners had struck a gents’s settlement to not signal Black gamers that lasted from 1934 to 1946. The ban, Johnson realized, was solely damaged after businessmen and journalists in Los Angeles pressured the Rams into signing Washington and Strode in 1946. Invoice Willis and Marion Motley joined the Cleveland Browns the identical 12 months.
Johnson’s lack of understanding was an indication of how little the NFL had finished to rejoice the gamers. However that may change on Saturday, when the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame will give its Pioneer Award to the gamers’ households at its annual enshrinement ceremony.
It might not have occurred with out Johnson and Glauber, who lobbied the Corridor for the respect 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 cellphone interview, Johnson and Glauber spoke about why the historical past of the so-called Forgotten 4 has gone largely unrecognized, the consequences of the NFL’s racist previous and the impression of giving the 4 pioneering gamers their due.
This interview has been calmly edited for readability and condensed.
Keyshawn, you wrote that you just didn’t find out about Washington or Stroud though you performed school soccer in the identical Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that they did after they attended UCLA
KEYSHAWN JOHNSON You understand, when you consider it rising up, if you speak about African American communities or Black colleges, there’s solely 4 Black individuals talked about in historical past: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman. I imply, it is fairly primary. Jackie Robinson in sports activities. Jesse Owens in sports activities and slightly little bit of Arthur Ashe sprinkled in. There is no actual deep dive into historical past. And once we get to school, it is rinse and repeat once more. They’ll educate 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 information about it as a result of it simply wasn’t talked about. There’s a monument on the Coliseum of Kenny Washington. However I do not know if it is up there on the Rose Bowl. I simply do not ever bear in mind seeing it, and I’m going to plenty of video games there.
Some of the compelling sections of the ebook was the dialogue of the implicit ban on signing Black gamers. You level to George Preston Marshall, the segregationist proprietor of the Washington franchise, as having led the ban, however you be aware that the opposite homeowners went together with him.
JOHNSON It by no means occurs with only one man. You’ll be able to’t name all people a racist, however if you tolerate and also you ignore and also you flip your head the opposite manner, you are simply as culpable. You are simply as a lot at fault as those who initiated it. That is the way in which it’s in skilled sports activities and in politics in the present day. Similar stuff, totally different years.
For many years, Main League Baseball has celebrated Jackie Robinson and confronted the ugly legacy of that league’s colour barrier. Why has it taken the NFL so lengthy to do the identical?
JOHNSON On the time, baseball was the primary sport in America when Jackie Robinson was doing 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.] after which a stoppage at a time when school soccer and baseball have been greater. The league tends to get plenty of issues incorrect after which attempt to right them later, so it is not out of the realm that it might have simply fully flown over their heads.
BOB GLAUBER This isn’t a very righteous story, banning Black gamers. And now, Black gamers make up roughly 70 p.c of the whole rosters of the NFL The league didn’t cowl itself in glory with this story.
That stated, once we went to the league and form of appeared for evaluation and opinion, beginning with Roger Goodell, he owned it. He stated: “That story is true, and we will not change that and we’ve to simply accept it.”
The 4 gamers, that they had diverging careers: Some lasted longer. Some lasted, truly, fairly briefly. Do any of their private tales resonate louder with you, Keyshawn?
JOHNSON It is simply extra about how they have been handled by a few of their teammates, each good and dangerous. These tales all the time follow me. How individuals like George Preston Marshall vindictively handled individuals, but was nonetheless in a position to personal a staff and wish Black gamers to serve him. To me, it is thoughts boggling. On the similar time, these gamers to nonetheless struggle by it and never let it personal them or take their spirits away for doing stuff that they need to do, which was play skilled sports activities. Motley acquired principally blackballed, could not play or coach within the Nationwide Soccer League, however he continued to struggle by it. That perseverance, that psychological toughness is what it is all about to me.
Race stays a central stress within the NFL with the Brian Flores swimsuit that alleged he was discriminated in opposition to in hiring, racial bias within the concussions settlement and criticism that there are few staff homeowners of colour. So will these 4 gamers being honored on the Corridor of Fame change the dynamic?
BELIEVERS This simply looks as if an emotional conclusion to their story as a result of the Corridor of Fame is honoring them. However to me, it is actually the start of extra consciousness of who they have been, what they did and why they have been so necessary as a result of they don’t seem to be family names like Jackie Robinson. I do not know in the event that they ever need to be. However they need to be.