The color line was erased in major league baseball when Jackie Robinson stepped on the baseball diamond at Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, Robinson’s football teammates at UCLA, along with Marion Motley and Bill Willis, were the first African Americans to play American team sports after signing to compete in the National Football League in 1946.
While many blacks followed Robinson in baseball and others in the NFL and the National Basketball Association, undocumented quotas were established for the teams. That was the norm in pro football until the American Football League was born in 1960. Black players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other walks of life gave rise to a faster, more exciting pace of action. The evidence of this change was underscored by Hank Stram’s leadership as coach of the Dallas Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs during the Civil Rights era. Stram assigned black and white players as roommates on road trips and during training camp to foster team unity, a practice that was not embraced by other football organizations. One of his most courageous moves is when he named Willie Lanier from then predominantly black Morgan State College the captain of his defensive team, over Jim Lynch from the uber-popular and legendary University of Notre Dame.
Still, Stram had the last laugh as he led his teams to two Super Bowls during the decade and four of his African American players were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To say that Hank Stram threw away the quota blueprint in pro football is an understatement; he shredded it beyond recognition. When Kansas City beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the player roster of the Chiefs was nearly 25 percent African American. All of this in the 1960s.
MARC CURTIS LITTLE BLOG/Please comment at www.marclittlewrites.com