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Sat, 08.31.1918

Kenny Washington, Football Player born

Kenny Washington

*Kenny. Washington was born on this date in 1918.  He was a Black professional American football player.  

Kenneth S. Washington was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the city's Lincoln Heights neighborhood. He was the son of Edgar "Blue" Washington, who played Negro League baseball.  He was raised by his grandmother Susie and his uncle Rocky, the first Black uniformed lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He played both baseball and football at Lincoln High School, where he was nicknamed "Kingfish" and led both teams to city championships in the same calendar year.

After graduation, George Halas, who coached the College All-Star Game had 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.  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.  

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. This created pressure on the team be racially integrated, since Black taxpayers as well as white had paid for construction of the facility. The Los Angeles Black press was especially outspoken, thanks to its Black sports editor, William Claire "Halley" Harding. As a result, the team signed Washington on March 21, 1946, as the first Black to sign a contract with a National Football League (NFL) team in the modern era (post-World War II 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.  Washington died of polyarteritis nodosa on June 24, 1971, at the age of 52 in Los Angeles, California. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.  

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