After Further Review … “’By rights the NFL should be able to celebrate a history of abiding enlightenment,” writes Alexander Wolff in the October 12, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated. The subjects of Wolff’s article were Woody Strode (#27), Jackie Robinson (#28) and Kenny Washington (#13), who made up the backfield of the 1939 UCLA Bruins.
My father was Kenny Washington’s high school coach (Lincoln – Los Angeles). I met Jackie Robinson when he was a halfback at Pasadena (California) Junior College. Other than Fritz Pollard, a black QB in the 1920s, Washington became the modern day (after WWII) “first” black NFL player.
Gridiron magazine called Washington “the greatest football player we have ever seen.” Legend has it that Kenny once “threw the ball 100 yards.” My dad said it was true – not legend. (Kenny says “it was only 93 yards.”) I stayed close to Kenny in his later years (he died at age 52), since he had been part of my father’s CHARACTER and COURAGE. My dad’s character was to acknowledge Kenny’s athleticism, not his skin color, and the courage to support and encourage (there’s that word courage again) him to go to UCLA and onto the NFL. Few NFL teams had black players; others (George Preston Marshall, Washington Redskins owner, as well as George Halas, owner/coach of the Chicago Bears) chose to keep their teams “lily-white,” as Wolff says in his article.
The NFL didn’t move much beyond the segregation that blacks faced in the 40s, 50s and into the 60s. Doug Williams, a black quarterback, led the Redskins (yes those same Redskins), to a Super Bowl title in 1988. Today’s black players are not only dominant in the NFL, but respected as well – except for those few who tend to imperil the game by show-boating and trash talking.
While the efforts of the NFLPA are working towards benefits for current and retired NFL players, we must not overlook, but applaud, the ongoing DIRE Need Fund and the Caring for Kids program of the NFLA (Alumni). Under the 17 year tenure and leadership of CEO Frank Krauser, the character and courage that the NFLA promotes stands tall along with those who supported and encouraged the Washington’s, Robinson’s and Strode’s some 70 years ago.
Much has yet to be accomplished in helping indigent former players (of all colors). Only when the NFLPA and the work of the current NFLA come together, along with a better effort from the owners, will character and courage win out!
Will you keep character and courage first and foremost in helping others?
To learn more about Jim Tunney, or if your organization would like to secure Jim as a speaker, please visit www.tunneysideofsports.com and click on Jim Tunney