The Forgotten First: Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and the Breaking of the NFL Color Barrier

Grand Central. Sept. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781538705483. $28. SPORTS
A year before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, his former UCLA football and baseball teammate Kenny Washington signed a contract with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Washington’s signing broke the color barrier in professional football and ended a shameful chapter in NFL history. He was joined a few months later by another UCLA teammate, Woody Strode, a wide receiver who would go on to have a successful film acting career. Robinson is universally recognized for his fearless trailblazing, but Washington and Strode have received no such acknowledgment—not by the NFL, nor by the general public. In this book, TV analyst and former NFL player Johnson teams up with football writer Glauber to bring attention to the lives and contributions of Washington and Strode, as well as those of Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the All-American Football Conference’s Cleveland Browns. This powerful history of the NFL’s integration is important, but the book’s strength is in connecting that history to the present, and the racism that Black NFL players still face.
VERDICT This account brings much-needed attention to the pioneers who integrated football; a must-read for any football fan interested in digging into the sport’s past.
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