June 23, 2024


The Pro Football Hall of Fame will recognize the “Forgotten Four” trailblazers at this year’s enshrinement ceremony. Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Bill Willis, and Marion Motley were named the recipients of the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award, which is presented to individuals who are “significant innovative contributions to professional football.”

“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall President Jim Porter said. “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 Hall of Fame has only presented the award 10 times, the last being Joe Browne in 2016 after working in the league for more than 50 years. Past recipients of the award include John Facenda, Steve Sabol, and the City of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. 

Washington, Strode, Willis, and Motley reintegrated professional football in 1946 after the game featured zero African American players in the 1930s. Washington and Strode signed with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams while Willis and Motley signed with the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference. 

Willis and Motley were selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as key contributors of the Browns dynasty. Motley led the league in rushing twice and was a two-time All-Pro selection. Willis was a star defensive middle guard and selected an All-Pro seven times. 

Washington played two seasons with the Rams and averaged 6.14 yards per carry while Strode played the 1946 season with Los Angeles. 

Fritz Pollard and Duke Slater were the first two players to integrate the game of football with Pollard joining the NFL in 1920 and Slater in 1922. 

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