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On this date in 1920, Marion Motley was born. He was a Black football player who helped desegregate professional football in the 1940s.
It was a career that earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. From Leesburg, Georgia, he was a fullback and linebacker for South Carolina State University, now Claflin University, and the University of Nevada before playing for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during World War II. His coach there was Paul Brown, who was later named the first Cleveland Browns coach in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC).
Brown signed Motley to Cleveland as a fullback in 1946, making him one of four Black players to break professional football's 13-year color barrier. At 6 feet 1 inch and 238 pounds, Motley was the leading rusher in the four-year history of the AAFC with 3,024 yards. The Cleveland Browns won every AAFC title and compiled a 47-4-3 regular-season record. Motley, who also contributed defensively, was an All-AAFC player in his first three seasons.
When the Browns joined the National Football League (NFL) in 1950, Motley led the league with 810 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry, and was named to the All-Pro team. Against Pittsburgh that year, he ran for 178 yards on 11 carries, better than 16 yards per carry.
The Browns won the NFL title in 1950 and advanced to the title game in the next three seasons. Motley missed the 1954 season owing to a knee injury. He finished his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955. In all, Motley totaled 4,720 rushing yards (a 5.7-yard average) and scored 31 touchdowns. Marion Motley died on June 27, 1999.
OUTSIDE THE PALE:
The Exclusion of Blacks from the National Football League, 1934-1946
By Thomas G. Smith, Professor of History, Nichols College
The Coffin Corner Volume XI
Originally publisher, The Journal of Sport History