Kenny Washington (American football)

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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
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
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[edit]

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

In college at 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.[3]

He led the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the school's football program in 1939.[4] 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 U. S. last year."[5]

Professional football[edit]

"Considered by West Coast fans the most brilliant player in the U. S. last year, Washington cannot play major-league pro football because he is a Negro."
Time magazine, 1940[5]

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. Washington was drafted into World War II in 1945, where he took part in freeing Jewish prisoners the Auschwitz concentration camp.

When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, the commissioners of the Los Angeles Coliseum stipulated as part of the agreement that the team be integrated. As a result, the team signed Washington on March 21, 1946,[6] and fellow UCLA (and Hollywood) teammate Strode later on May 7.[7] His NFL stint only lasted three years, but the impact he had on the league was enormous. 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.

He can be seen as a contestant on the 16 April 1959 edition of You Bet Your 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, he spent the evening at Washington's south Los Angeles home playing music and trying to relax.[8]

Later career[edit]

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

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

See also[edit]


  2. ^ "Kenny Washington" Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ B.J. VIOLETT - TEAMMATES RECALL JACKIE ROBINSON’S LEGACY. UCLA Today magazine, 1997 Quote:"We couldn’t play in Texas because we had black guys on our team", McPherson said. "They couldn’t stay in the hotels or eat in the restaurants, so we didn’t travel there." Mathews remembers it was rough for black athletes. "One game, some redneck Missouri players were riding Washington pretty good and they would take chalk from the sidelines and rub it in his face. But Kenny was terrific at just playing on through. He was amazing."
  4. ^ "Washington, Kenny". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 6, 2006. 
  5. ^ a b Sport: Kickoff, Time, September 9, 1940, accessed July 12, 2011.
  6. ^ Young, A. S. (Doc) (May 1969). "The Black Athlete Makes His Mark". Ebony XXIV (7): 119. ISSN 0012-9011. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  7. ^ "First African-American NFL players helped break down barriers". National Football League. 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  8. ^ Morris, Roger (1990). Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. New York: Holt. p. 612. ISBN 0-8050-1121-8. 
  9. ^ Bob Boyles and Paul Guido, The USA Today College Football Encyclopedia (2009-2010), page 273 (2009). Retrieved on September 8, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]