The Other Jackie Robinson | UCLA
Pop Quiz: Who Broke the Color Barrier in Major League Baseball? Any Bruin, and most Americans, know it was Jackie Robinson, when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Bonus points if you remember the date: April 15, 1947.)
Okay, that was easy. Now: Who broke the color barrier in the National Football League?
Perplexed? Welcome to an embarrassingly large club.
Courtesy of Dan Taylor
Cover by Taylorbiography of former UCLA football player Kenny Washington
Fortunately, Dan Taylor is here to help. In the new biography Walking Alone: The Untold Journey of Football Pioneer Kenny Washington (Rowman and Littlefield), Taylor puts the spotlight on UCLA star running back Kenny Washington ’41. A year before Robinson’s MLB ceiling was broken, Washington took the field for the Los Angeles Rams, ending the National Football League’s ban that had barred blacks from playing in the league for 13 years. Washington only played three seasons with the Rams, but in doing so he opened the door for all the black players who followed and changed the league forever.
“I wanted to write this book because one of the greatest football players and most impactful athletes in American history has been largely forgotten,” says Taylor, former sports director for KFSN-TV ABC30 in Fresno and author of several books on sports history. . “This should not happen. Hall of Famers who saw him play at UCLA said he was the best they had ever seen. He put Bruins football on the map.”
Taylor documents the verbal and physical abuse—opponents hurling racial epithets, even hitting him during games—that Washington endured, as well as his refusal to play in the South. But researching the book wasn’t quite an exercise in some of the darkest chapters of American history. Taylor also learned that Washington, like Robinson, was close to choosing a career in Major League Baseball. “I never knew that Jackie and others pressured Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey to sign Kenny as well,” he says. But 10 days earlier, Washington had given his word that he would sign with the Rams, and he kept it. Like Bruin of him.
Read more from UCLA Magazine Winter 2023 issue.
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