Kenny Washington was born August 31, 1918, in Los Angeles, California. He was raised in Lincoln Heights by his grandmother and his uncle, Rocky. Rocky was the first uniformed Black lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department. Washington was on his way to becoming a “first” in his own right like his uncle Rocky.
While in school, Washington excelled in athletics. As a junior at Lincoln High School, he led the team to the city title. Six months later as a senior, he led the team to the football championship. He was then accepted into the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). There, he was a football and baseball star.
After becoming UCLA’s first All-American athlete, Washington embarked on his professional career. To his dismay, however, a career in the NFL was not possible at the time. In 1933, Washington Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall, advocated for a ban against Black athletes in the NFL. That ban would last for 12 years. Then-Chicago Bears coach, George Halas, attempted to get the ban overturned but was unsuccessful.
Since Washington could not pursue his dream as an NFL athlete, he began coaching freshman football at UCLA. He also joined the Los Angeles Police Department and played semi-pro football for four seasons. Although he did not play pro football, he gained much notoriety as a semi-pro.
In 1946, the Los Angeles Rams faced the threat of losing their lease on the Los Angeles Coliseum unless they signed a Black athlete. As a result, Washington was signed on with the Los Angeles Rams and the racial ban against Black athletes was lifted.
Although Washington was already 28 years old with a bum knee, he still managed to set a number of records. In 1947, he ran a 92-yard touchdown against Chicago. That run remains a franchise record.
Following the 1948 season, Washington retired from the NFL. His jersey, No. 13, was retired by UCLA in 1956. Also in 1956, Washington was inducted into the College Hall of Fame. He has been commemorated as the man who integrated American football. Kenny Washington died of heart and lung problems on June 24, 1971, in Los Angeles, California. He was 52 years old.
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