Black History Month Spotlight: In 1946, Kenny Washington Broke the NFL’s Color Barrier

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

Born in Los Angeles, Kenny Washington (1918-1971) was an all-star athlete at Lincoln High, where he led both the baseball and football teams to city championships. Nicknamed “Kingfish,” his star continued to rise as a running back at UCLA (where he also played baseball with Jackie Robinson). In 1939, he was number one in total yards in the nation and was lauded in a 1940 edition of Time as “the most brilliant player in the U.S.”

Due to the NFL’s unofficial segregation, Washington was undrafted upon graduation. He became a police officer and played in small football leagues. In 1946, the L.A. Ram’s signed Washington, making him the first Black man to have a contract with the NFL in the modern era. He led the NFL in yards per carry in his second year. But his career was cut short by chronic knee injuries, and he retired in 1948. At his last game, 80,000 fans in the L.A. Coliseum gave him a standing ovation.

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