This Day In Black Sports History: Kenny Washington Becomes First Black NFL Player

Kenny Washington was a professional football player who played running back for the Los Angeles Rams. Sadly, many people have forgotten Kenny Washington as his career only lasted three seasons. Jackie Robinson is celebrated for breaking the color barrier in professional baseball; however, Washington is too often forgotten even though he broke the color barrier in the National Football League a year before Robinson did in baseball. He signed his contract on March 21, 1946 at the age of 28. This was after the NFL did not allow black players for the previous 12 seasons, and after Washington had already undergone several knee surgeries. A big influence in Washington being signed was the pressure that Los Angeles placed on the Rams by prohibiting them to play at the Coliseum if they discriminated against blacks and minorities.

Washington played all three running-back positions during his three years in the NFL, left and right halfback, and the fullback position. He was also used as a defensive back because of his great coverage skills and tackling ability. During his short career, Washington was an explosive player who wasn’t used nearly as much as running backs today. The 6'1'' 212lb Washington ran 140 times for 859 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, caught 15 passes for 227 yards and scored 9 offensive touchdowns.

Much of Washington’s athletic prowess was likely passed on from his father who played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. His father was often absent because of his baseball and acting career. As a result, Kenny spent a lot of time with his uncle, Rocky Washington, who, after becoming a cop, eventually became the highest ranking African-American in the Los Angeles Police Department during that era. With his father and uncle doing big things, it is only natural that Kenny Washington would have a significant place in NFL history, following in their footsteps.

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