Dear senior committee members,
Major League Baseball and the entire sporting world will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day today, and it's a well-deserved honor for one of our nation's heroes. The day is also a tad bittersweet because it comes with a reminder that we, as football historians, have dropped the ball for one of our own, Kenny Washington.
There is some vague recollection of Washington throughout the league. Some might nod when they hear the name. Others might refer to him as the "Jackie Robinson of the NFL." Which is quite an amazing feat if you consider the fact that Washington broke the color barrier in the modern NFL a full year before Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
And yet we don't honor Washington. The Rams haven't even retired his number. It is time for us to rectify that. It should start and finish with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I am asking you, the members of the senior committee, to nominate Washington for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An honor that has long eluded him. And that's just wrong. Not only is Washington's exclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame egregious, it also goes against the core values of the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself.
Let's take a look.
Honor the Heroes of the Game
Washington entered a league that was not quite ready for integration. The NFL had a ban on black players from 1934 through 1946, but when the Cleveland Rams wanted to relocate to Los Angeles, one of the conditions was the team had to be integrated. Enter Washington, who was a local hero at UCLA during the late 1930s. He immediately became one of the biggest stars for the Los Angeles Rams.
And as you can imagine, Washington faced racist barbs, bigotry and hatred from opponents, fans and even team owners. Other black athletes who would come after him would endure a similar plight. But where Jackie Robinson could avoid the baseballs thrown at him, Washington was given the ball. He ran head-first into not only defenders who didn't want him in the game, but also the civil rights movement. That sounds rather heroic to me.
|Adam Rank speaks at the dedication of Kenny Washington Square in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, 2014. (Special to NFL.com)|
Preserve its History
As mentioned previously, the legacy of Kenny Washington seemingly disappeared almost as quickly as he came into the league. This should be an embarrassment for us. If the goal of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is to preserve its history, we need to start right now with Washington.
Promote its Positive Values
It doesn't take an exhaustive Google search to find stories of players misbehaving. That's why it's important to recognize men like Washington. A man who had to endure many cheap shots at the bottom of a pile up, yet still stood tall. These are the stories about the NFL I would like to share with future generations.
Too often we confuse excellence with numbers. But what Washington accomplished cannot be measured in yards and statistics. Washington played just three seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, but his legacy has stood for a lifetime. In fact, it still endures today. In a league where the overwhelming majority of players are African-American, you can't deny what he has meant to the league. What he did can be measured in rushing titles and Pro Bowl bids, but not those in his name directly. Instead, his accomplishments come from those who are given an opportunity today because of what Washington did years ago.
So I leave it to you, to please consider Kenny Washington for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's an honor that has been long overdue.