Viola Davis narrates NFL integration story ahead of Super Bowl

NFL team owners met secretly to discuss a ban on Black players

In a powerful featured titled, Before Jackie, which aired during the Super Bowl pregame on Sunday, Academy Award-winner, Viola Davis, recounted the moment when the NFL broke its unofficial color barrier which kept Black players out of the league for 13 years.

Many know that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947, but little is known about Kenny Washington, the Black football player that re-integrated the NFL in 1946.

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Although there were no color barriers in 1920 when the NFL was founded, there were only two Black players across the league’s 14 teams, and one of those players was Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard. Unfortunately, inclusion was slow, and only a handful of players made it into the league over the next few years.

In 1933, despite the shamefully low number of Black players allowed in the NFL, team owners met secretly to discuss the future role of Black players in the league.

“They decided that the ‘colored boys’ were bad for business,” Davis said in the video. “Call it what you want, but this gentleman’s agreement made it clear as day. Blacks were not allowed to play in their league anymore. Period.”

Read More: Fritz Pollard Alliance lobbies for 15-yard penalty for racial epithets during games

Segregation in the NFL ended in 1946 when the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles. They would play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was largely built using Black taxpayer dollars. Black journalists pushed back asking why an all-white team should get to play in their stadium.

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Rams ownership responded and signed UCLA alum Kenny “Kingfish” Washington, ending the 13-year unofficial ban on Black players in the NFL.

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