How Blacks Got to Play Professional Football.

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BILL WILLIS PLAYING ON OHIO STATE IN THE 40SONE OF THE TWO FIRST BLACKS TO PLAY PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL THANKS TO PAUL BROWN. Marion Motley (below) the Fullback’s Fullback is the other.

WPCNR THE SUNDAY BAILEY. By John F. Bailey. February 13, 2022:

Do you know?

I didn’t until last week.

John Vorperian, host of White Plains TV’s Beyond the Game on Tuesdays and Fridays, shined a bright light last week  into a  rarely explained phenomenon : how Black football stars first came to play professional football.

This evening Eastern Standard Time, we will see America’s most watched television program all year.

Some 80 million people will watch the NFL Championship with probably three quarters of the players of color. (The league now, John told us Thursday evening via zoom in his presentation provided by the White Plains Public Library , is made up of 70% Black players.)

How it got to be that way was the fascinating topic of John’s talk.

I had heard of black players in the early 1950s when I was a kid, Marion Motley of the old Cleveland Browns, and of course the great Jim Brown of Syracuse and the Browns.

Jim Brown was the greatest running back I ever saw play when I watched the old Browns and the New York Giants play when the Giants were Giants from 1956 through 1963.

The Football Giants coached by Jim Lee Howell had a lot of black stars, Emlen Tunnel, Mel Triplett, Rosey Grier, Roosevelt Greer. I did not as an 11 year old know that this was only a recently introduced trend.

John Vorperian changed all that for me Thursday night with his one hour talk explaining how the World War II situation, and how one man, Paul Brown believed in an athlete’s ability not what the color of his skin was.

Mr. Vorperian highlighted how in the early 40s the NFL did not have any black players. He detailed how when college players who had served in World War II came back, and were eligible to enroll in colleges they played football, most notably at UCLA, Ohio State and  became standouts. One of them was Marion Motley below.

From The Pros by Robert Riger with Tex Maule.

Marion Motley was signed by Mr. Brown and brought to his upstart Cleveland Browns in the All-American Football Conference

Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns Coach who was coach of Massillon High School where he became a legend for the successful teams he fielded, had allowed black athletes on his high school teams, unheard of at the time. 

Paul Brown went on to Ohio State where he also was successful. After coaching for the Navy Training Center team, he took a job as coach of the Cleveland team in the new All American Football Conference, a league set up to compete with the NFL. Coach Brown signed Bill Willis and Marion Motley whom he had coached at Ohio State to play for the Browns.

Mr. Willis and Mr. Motley were the first black players to play professional football.

Football players from UCLA were signed to play in the All American Conference. Paul Brown is credited as the coach who introduced black players to the NFL.

I never knew that.

According to Wikipedia, Paul Brown never looked at race or made predeterminations about players. He gave them a chance.

Brown judged on their ability to help his teams from Massillon to the Cincinnati Bengals who play in the SuperBowl this afternoon. Not dismissing them because they were black. How incredibly refreshing.

Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns with the first black players to play in the NFL, winning the NFL Championship in 1950.

John Vorperian told the story of George Preston Marshall owner of the Washington Redskins who would not have a black player on his teams. Marshall was a disgrace to the NFL into the 1960s.

Vorperian has been a curator of the character and reality of sports the last two decades  week after week on his shows. He has been the irrepressible interviewer who asks questions players, coaches, sportswriters, authors love to answer and enlighten.

Beyond the Game  shines a sensitive light on the true reality of sports personalities, sports past and present. He is also a member of the Jackie Robinson Organization where he speaks on Jackie’s contributions to breaking the color line in baseball. John, in his professional career is nationally recognized for his work in promoting fair family court treatment of the less fortunate children and parents.

Last week’s program pointed how just as Branch Rickey the executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson because they were brave, and just as Paul Brown in the case of Motley and Willis playing for him changed history, attitudes, and turned around two centuries of prejudice. Because they did a noble courageous, deed.

Vorperian’s talk which will be available soon via zoom recording I believe on the White Plains Library website  is must-see for you to get acquainted with how the NFL got Black quarterbacks, Black coaches (not as many as they should have), who inspire and perform despite the odds.

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