Kenny Washington (American football)

Kenny Washington
Position: Running back
Personal information
Date of birth: (1918-08-31)August 31, 1918
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California
Date of death: June 24, 1971(1971-06-24) (aged 52)
Place of death: Los Angeles, California
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 237 lb (108 kg)
Career information
High school: Los Angeles (CA) Abraham Lincoln
College: UCLA
Undrafted: 1946
Career history
Career highlights and awards
  • 1939 Douglas Fairbanks Trophy (most outstanding player in College Football)
Career NFL statistics
Rushing Yards: 859
Rushing Average: 6.1
Rushing Touchdowns: 8
Player stats at

Kenneth S. Washington (August 31, 1918 – June 24, 1971) was a professional football player who was the first African-American to sign a contract with a National Football League team in the modern (post-World War II) era.


UCLA Bruins

Washington was a star running back at Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles.

UCLA, Washington rushed for 1,914 yards in his college career, a school record for 34 years. He was one of four African American players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, the others being Woody Strode, Jackie Robinson and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson starred on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, in which they made up three of the four backfield players.[1] This was a rarity to have so many African Americans when only a few dozen at all played on college football teams.[2] They played eventual conference and national champion USC to a 0-0 tie with the 1940 Rose Bowl on the line. It was the first UCLA-USC rivalry football game with national implications. UCLA teammates have commented how strong Washington was when confronted with racial slurs and discrimination.[1]

Washington led the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the school's football program in 1939.[3] However, he was named to second team All-America selection instead of the first and was omitted from the East-West Shrine Game that year. These slights were the source of much outrage among West Coast media outlets which blamed them on racial discrimination.

According to Time magazine's coverage of the 1940 College All-Star Game, Washington was "considered by West Coast fans the most brilliant player in the US last year."[4]

Professional football

After graduation, George Halas attempted to sign Washington to the Chicago Bears, but was blocked by other NFL owners. Instead, Washington played for the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League from 1941 to 1945.

When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, the team sought to play in the publicly owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — a decision which created immediate pressure that the team be racially integrated, since black taxpayers as well as white had paid for construction of the facility.[5] As a result, the team signed Washington on March 21, 1946, followed by fellow African-American UCLA and Hollywood Bears teammate Woody Strode on May 7.[6]

Prior to his first NFL season Washington underwent surgery in both knees, having torn cartilage removed from his left knee and what was characterized in the press as "a growth" from his right.[7] The April surgery was successful and Washington was able to recover in time for the July start of the Rams' training camp.

Later life

Washington was a staunch Republican and strongly supported Richard Nixon's 1950 U.S. Senate campaign. The night before Nixon's crushing victory over Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, the candidate — a great football fan — spent the evening at Washington's south Los Angeles home playing music and trying to relax.[8]

After retirement from football, Washington became a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Death and legacy

For his contribution to sports in Los Angeles, he was honored with a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum "Court of Honor" plaque by the Coliseum commissioners. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956 and his number 13 jersey was the first to be retired at UCLA.

Washington died of polyarteritis nodosa on June 24, 1971, at the age of 52.[9]

See also


  1. 1 2 B.J. Violett, "Teammates Recall Jackie Robinson's Legacy," UCLA Today, April 25, 1997.
  2. "Kenny Washington" Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. "Washington, Kenny". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 6, 2006.
  4. Sport: Kickoff, Time, September 9, 1940, accessed July 12, 2011.
  5. A.S. Young "The Black Athlete Makes His Mark," Ebony, vol. 26, no. 7 (1969) pg. 118.
  6. "First African-American NFL Players Helped Break Down Barriers," National Football League, Feb. 17, 2012.
  7. Associated Press, "Operation for Gridiron Star," Berkshire [PA] Eagle, April 11, 1946, pg. 21.
  8. Roger Morris, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. New York: Holt, 1990; pg. 612.
  9. Bob Boyles and Paul Guido, The USA Today College Football Encyclopedia (2009-2010), page 273 (2009). Retrieved on September 8, 2012.

Further reading

External links

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