They say you’ll always remember falling in love. I remember when I fell in love with football. Emmitt Smith was a first round draft pick, playing for what would become my lifelong favorite team: The Dallas Cowboys. It was love at first sight and a love that would have never been possible without four courageous men. These four athletes are often overshadowed by Jackie Robinson, even though Jackie integrated baseball a year after they re-integrated football, following a twelve-year ban on Black players in the league.
I had the honor and pleasure to attend the screening for the EPIX original documentary, Forgotten Four. This wonderful documentary chronicled the struggles and adversities those four men endured so that the Emmitt Smiths and Richard Shermans of today could play in the National Football League. Their strides even made it possible for Mike Tomlin and Herman Edwards and many others to coach in the NFL.
Forgotten Four is important because it teaches an integral part of not only African-American history, but American history. Even if you don’t know the difference between offense and defense or can’t name last year’s Superbowl winner; this documentary is a must watch. Without them leading the way, who knows how long it would have taken to see Black players, owners, writers, or even sportscasters. Football is a billion dollar industry that was re-integrated in the 40’s yet we’re still making strides. Being a Black quarterback like Rodney Pete and Donovan McNabb, or being a Black coach is slowly becoming commonplace over fifty years after the league reluctantly accepted back Black players.
Kenny Washington was kept out of professional football despite his amazing athletic ability, his collegiate coaching stint and his time playing at UCLA. The league stopped signing black players in 1927 and re-integrated in 1946 after World War II.
Don’t think the league welcomed Washington voluntarily. Instead, it was under threat of losing the lease to the Los Angeles Coliseum, that the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington in 1946. Before Washington would sign he required the club sign on his college friend and old UCLA teammate, Woody Strode. Ironically, Strode, Washington and Jackie Robinson had all played football together at UCLA.
In 1946, things were changing in the Midwest too. The Cleveland Browns broke the color lines when Paul Brown was the head coach. Brown didn’t integrate the team for any accolades or fame. He simply wanted to build and coach the best team possible. He did so in part by signing Marion Motley and Bill Willis. Paul Brown coached his team as if it were a family. The Cleveland Browns, with the contribution of Bill and Marion would go on to become one of the greatest football dynasties of all time.
I urge you to watch this documentary that premieres on EPIX on September 23rd at 8 PM. American sports were forever changed by four men that simply wanted to play football, and didn’t necessarily set out for social change. Their bravery, endurance, and contributions changed our racial landscape in professional sports.
Check out the trailer below:
We had a fantastic time checking out the screening at the Regal Cinema at Atlantic Station.
By: Janine Breland for Pretty!