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Forgotten Four – players who broke NFL race barrier – to receive Pioneer Award


The Four men who smashed the race barrier in professional football in 1946 have been selected to share the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award, the Canton, Ohio-based organization announced Thursday.

Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who re-integrated the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, and Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns, who became the first Black players in the All-America Football Conference — will receive the Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award. 

Often called the Forgotten Four, the men will be honored during the Hall’s enshrinement week in August. The four broke the race barrier in professional football a year before Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in baseball.

Pro football had been segregated for more than a decade until Washington, Strode, Willis, and Motley all played in the 1946 season. A small number of Blacks played in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

Hall President Jim Porter proudly stated, “The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting. Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation. Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever.”

The Pioneer Award has been given out by the Hall of Fame only 10 times since it was established in 1972. It is named for Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs, who in 1920 hosted the first meeting of the clubs that became the National Football League.


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