While the NFL is today made up by a majority of African American players, many of whom are currently protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, this was not always the case. The league did not admit Black players into its modern incarnation until 1946, when Kenny Washington was signed to the Los Angeles Rams.
Los Angeles Rams Break Ice By Hiring First Colored Star in Modern Grid Circles
March 30, 1946
LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Rams, 1945 world gridiron champions, on Thursday signed the first colored player to a contract in the modern football league.
The player is Kenny Washington, All-American halfback at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1937-1940.
Washington signed for an undisclosed salary, but unofficial reports are to the effect the former UCLA sensation will be paid in the five figures.
Twenty-seven years of age and regarded as one of the best passers in the history of the West Coast collegiate conference, Kenny becomes one of the first colored players to perform in the revamped National Football League.
The last man to precede him was Joe Lillard, former Oregon luminary, who played from 1930-33 with the Chicago Cardinals. When Lillard played, however, the professional game had not advanced to the high station it now occupies.
It wasn’t until 1935 that the National Football League cemented its foundation and launched the tremendous promotional campaign which has gained it nationwide popularity.
Challenge to All-America
The hiring of Washington is also believed in many quarters to be direct challenge to the All-America, as it has been widely rumored the new conference intends to employ qualified colored players.
Slated for All-Star Tilt
Although colored stars have competed in this game in the past, Washington among them, this will mark the first time one has shown up in pro team’s line-up.
Kenny was born in this city in 1918. He began his gridiron career at Lincoln High School here. During his prep school days he was all-city and all-Southern California halfback in 1935.