1938 Kenny Washington College Football & NFL African American Pioneer Original TYPE 1 Photo PSA/DNA

Kenny Washington (D. 1971) was an American professional football player who was the first African-American to sign a contract with a National Football League (NFL) team in the modern (post-World War II) era. He played college football for the UCLA Bruins. Washington attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he was a member of both the Bruins' baseball and football teams. As a baseball player, Washington was rated better than his teammate Jackie Robinson. One story has it that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher wanted to offer Washington a contract to play for the team, but only if he went to Puerto Rico first, which Washington refused to do.

In football, his position was tailback, and he often passed as much as he rushed. 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, Robinson, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the four backfield players that year.  This was a rarity to have so many African Americans when only a few dozen at all played on college football teams. The Bruins 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 on how strong Washington was when confronted with racial slurs and discrimination.

Washington was the first Bruin to lead the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the school's football program in 1939. Despite these achievements and the fact that he also doubled as a defensive back, 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 media outlets which blamed them on racial discrimination.  He was elected to College Football Hall of Fame in 1956.

After graduation, George Halas, who coached the College All-Star Game, indicated interest in Washington for his Chicago Bears team, but was unable to convince the league to permit integration. Instead, Washington coached football at UCLA and joined the LAPD. From 1940 to 1945, Washington played for the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League, where he was the league's highest-paid player. He earned all-league recognition each year, including his first year when he suffered a knee injury that prevented him from being conscripted for the war. Ezzrett Anderson and Washington's UCLA teammate Strode were also on that team. In 1945, he did serve in the military on the USO tour as a type of sports ambassador, visiting with troops and playing in exhibition games.
When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, the team sought to play in the publicly owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – a decision which created immediate pressure that the team be racially integrated, since black taxpayers as well as white had paid for construction of the facility.  The Los Angeles Tribune was especially outspoken, thanks to its African-American sports editor, William Claire "Halley" Harding, a former professional athlete and member of the debate team at Wiley College. As a result, the team signed Washington on March 21, 1946, followed by Strode on May 7.

Prior to his first NFL season Washington underwent surgery in both knees (his fifth knee surgery overall – as a child he contracted rickets and was once hit by car), having torn cartilage removed from his left knee and what was characterized in the press as "a growth" from his right. He played for the Rams for three years, but although his injuries had taken their toll, he was still able to lead the league in yards per carry in his second season, and even scored a 92-yard touchdown, which remains the Rams team record for the longest run from scrimmage. When he retired in 1948, 80,000 people attended his final game and the entire stadium gave him a standing ovation.

This is the QUINTESSENTIAL image of Kenny Washington (used on the cover of his biography, programs, media related articles) that measures 7” x  9” in size and was released on September 8, 1938 (stamped) and has the original paper caption from ACME News calling him the Team Triple Threat (going into his Sophomore season at UCLA).

Encapsulated as an Authentic TYPE 1 photograph by PSA/DNA


Item: 12974

Price: $1.00
1938 Kenny Washington College Football & NFL African American Pioneer Original TYPE 1 Photo PSA/DNA