CANTON, Ohio — The four men who smashed the race barrier in professional football in 1946 have been selected to share the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award.
The Canton, Ohio,-based organization announced Thursday that Kenny Washington, Woody Strode and Hall of Famers Bill Willis and Marion Motley — often called the Forgotten Four —will be honored during the Hall's enshrinement week in August.
The award is named for the former owner of the Canton Bulldogs who hosted the NFL’s formational meeting in Canton in 1920. It was established in 1972 and is presented in recognition of “significant innovative contributions to professional football.”
“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall President Jim Porter said in a statement. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation.
"Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever,” Porter said in announcing the award.
Washington and Strode signed with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Willis and Motley signed with the Cleveland Browns of the-then new All-America Football Conference.
Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The Pioneer Award has been presented only nine other times. The first recipient was Fred Gehrke, the Rams halfback who devised the idea of a helmet logo in 1948. Longtime NFL executive Joe Browne was the most recent recipient of the award, receiving it in 2016 after more than 50 years with the league.
Future Pro Football Hall of Famers Fritz Pollard and Duke Slater were the first Blacks to integrate football in 1920 and 1922, respectively.