Hey! It’s March Madness! You know that month where we all get focused on “amateur” college hoops teams (sidebar just pay them already) and make bets in office pools, prop bets on absurd side items, and scour the internet for replays of big moments. Big fun.
But if I were to ask you to bet on the person that integrated modern pro sports would you get the answer right? Jackie Robinson you would say. And hey, good guess. He was a touchstone, a marker in American racial history for sure. He deserves every plaudit he received.
But his start at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers happened April 15, 1947.
It was another young African-American named Kenny Washington, a UCLA football phenom, that made the jump to major, white, sports signing a contract on March 21, 1946 with the Los Angeles Rams. Now it was not all love and harmony. Deep seeded racism still pervaded the league, and within the Rams. But Washington was lifted up by the LA press, AND he was one hell of a player and he got the gig. He ALSO demanded his UCLA teammate, Woody Strode, get the call up too.
And small history note… You know who else was on that UCLA football team? Jackie Robinson. Robinson was the better baseball player, and Washington, the better on the gridiron. But they unlocked modern major sports.
And it was actually football, in the post-war 1940’s that saw integration take hold first. Today the NFL is roughly 65 percent black, and that means literally nothing about race and everything about owners not giving a shit about race and simply trying to find the best players.
Oddly enough, MLB as of a 2015 census found only about 9 percent of major league baseball players to identify as African American. It is the Latino group that saw the largest jump, making up nearly 30 percent of opening day rosters. But again, none of that matters to fans or owners (well ok there have been a few owners in various pro leagues outed at straight up Eugenics racists (Donald Sterling), but in all, the goal in 2019 is just to @$##@ win.
Men like Robinson and Washington paved the way for what we have today, and they are to be forever commended for having the guts to go first.
And well, Kenny was first. So here’s to you Kenny.
Hopefully the NFL will let this link stay up, but I get a feeling… so here is the link