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Kenny Washington became the first Black NFL player when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams on March 21,1946.

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In the early days of professional football, with small competing leagues scattered across the country, a few African Americans had played for various small teams. In 1933, however, National Football League owners imposed a ban on black players. In August of 1940, Washington played on a team of college all-stars in an annual exhibition game at Chicago’s Soldier Field against the NFL champion, that year the Green Bay Packers. Although the Packers won the game, Washington scored a touchdown and played well, inspiring speculation that an NFL owner might try to break the apartheid rule. Speculation intensified when Chicago Bears owner George Halas asked Washington to stay on for a week in Chicago, and NBC radio sports anchor Sam Balter supported his cause. But Halas did not succeed in persuading his fellow NFL owners to lift the ban.

So Washington headed for the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast League, where he was so popular that tickets for the team’s games billed them as “The Hollywood Bears with Kenny Washington,” Washington’s teammate, Woody Strode, told football historian Charles Kenyatta Rose. Washington was paid on a par with NFL players of the day, but part of his salary was diverted to his uncle Rocky to disguise the fact that he was taking home more than his fellow players. He also worked as a Los Angeles police officer on the side. Two serious knee operations slowed Washington down and kept him out of World War II. He played for the San Francisco Clippers of the American Football League in 1944.

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