In 1946, a black newspaper led a campaign to get the NFL to hire Kenny Washington — and desegregated the league
While the technology of media-led campaigns for change may have improved, they are far from a modern phenomenon. Just look at Kenny Washington, a friend and former teammate of Jackie Robinson’s.
As described in a mini-documentary by Timeline, the Los Angeles born-and-bred running back was a star player at UCLA, where he endured the racism of opposing teams with the help of his friend Woody Strode and Robinson. Washington’s success with the Bruins led to him winning the Douglas Fairbanks trophy for being the college football’s most outstanding player in 1939.
After he graduated, however, he was met with resistance from the NFL, who’d had an unwritten rule against hiring black players since the Great Depression that gave priority to white players.
According to the NFL, Washington nearly got a contract with the Chicago Bears, but then-coach George Halas (who’d coached Washington at a College All-Star Game) was overruled by other NFL owners.
Instead, he played for the semi-pro Hollywood Bears for years and even became an officer with the LAPD.
In 1946, years after he graduated, Washington finally got his chance when the Cleveland Rams moved to L.A. Halley Harding, a columnist with the African-American Los Angeles Tribune newspaper, led a pressure campaign with the L.A. Coliseum Commission that said the coliseum would not allow the newly-relocated team to play unless they integrated.
The Rams tapped Washington to play, and he made sure to bring his old teammate Strode with him. Soon after, other teams began hiring black players as well.
Watch Timeline’s short documentary on Washington below.