Marion Motley (top left), Bill Willis (top right), Woody Strode (bottom left), Kenny Washington (bottom right)
Four NFL alumni will be honored posthumously this summer with the prestigious Ralph Hay Pioneer Award which is given by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The four individuals—Kenny Washington and Woody Strode of the Rams and Hall of Famers Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Browns—will share the award which is granted only periodically by the Hall. These four individuals in 1946 were the first African-American players since the early 1930s to enter pro football. The Browns started in the old AAFC but merged into the NFL in 1950 under Coach Paul Brown.
“The selection of these four men could not be more fitting, “says Hall of Fame President Jim Porter. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke the color barrier after World War II and opened the door to opportunity for generations of future African-American players.”
The award is named for the former owner of the Canton Bulldogs who hosted the NFL’s first informational meeting in Canton in 1920. It is presented in recognition of “significant and innovative contributions to professional football.” The award has been bestowed only nine previous times in League history.
These four honorees reintegrated our sport in 1946 but two Hall of Famers—Fritz Pollard and Marion Motley—were the first to integrate the game in 1920 and 1922, respectively.
These four men will be honored during Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week this August in Canton.