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Rams In NFL, Sports Forefront of Innovation and Diversity
Thursday, February 1, 2007
By Rick Smith
Vice President of Public Relations
The St. Louis Rams have long been in the NFL forefront in innovation and diversity.
The Rams were the first team to create an insignia for their game helmets in 1948. The Rams’ horns today are one of the most recognized symbols in sports.
The Rams were the first team with a female owner, Georgia Frontiere, who succeeded her late husband in 1979.
The Rams were the first team to create a college scouting department, in 1948 hiring Eddie Kotal to scour the country for collegiate talent. It was Kotal, perusing a copy of the Pittsburgh Courier, who discovered a 235-pound sledgehammer of a football player named Paul (Tank) Younger.
Younger was the Courier’s Negro College Football Player of the year in 1948. He was called Tank because he resembled a Sherman Tank running over opponents of the small, predominantly African-American school, Grambling College in Louisiana.
The Rams signed Younger in 1949 and in 1951 he made the NFL’s Pro Bowl on offense as a fullback and defense as a linebacker.
The Rams also made Mickey Dukich the NFL’s first fulltime game film director in 1956 and appointed Dick Vermeil as the NFL’s first fulltime special teams coach in 1969.
But it was the signing of halfback Kenny Washington in 1946 that was most significant and assured the Rams and their owner, Daniel F. Reeves, of a permanent place in sports history.
Washington had been a star player at East Los Angeles’s Lincoln High in the 1930s and played in the same backfield at UCLA with Jackie Robinson.
But Washington did not have the opportunity to play in the NFL after his collegiate career concluded in 1940, when he played for the College all-Stars in the annual Chicago All-Star game against the Green Bay Packers.
There had been black professional players preceding Washington. As early as 1904 Charlie Follis was paid to play for the team in Shelby, Ohio. Paul Robeson and Duke Slater played in the NFL in the 1920s and Fritz Pollard coached and played for the Canton Bulldogs.
But NFL owners adopted an unofficial “hands off” policy and did not pursue black players beginning in 1933.
Reeves moved the Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles after winning the NFL Championship in 1945 and was negotiating a lease to play in the Los Angeles Coliseum. As part of the negotiation Reeves agreed to give Washington a tryout.
Washington had been the top player in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League as a member of the Hollywood Bears. Reeves signed Washington to a contract on March 9, 1946. “All hell broke loose,” remembered Bob Snyder, who became the Rams’ head coach in 1947. “There was considerable objection (by other NFL owners) but Reeves did it. He deserves the credit.”
Just 12 days later the Rams signed another African-American, end Woody Strode, who had played at UCLA more than a decade earlier and also stood out in the track-and-field Decathlon.
Strode played only briefly but earned acclaim as a motion picture actor. He appeared in 70 movies during a 40-year career. Many were Westerns starring John Wayne and directed by the legendary John Ford.
Washington was 29 with aching knees when he signed with the Rams. He played only three seasons but averaged 6.1 yards a carry and still holds the Rams’ record with a 92-yard touchdown run against the Chicago Cardinals in 1947.
Washington’s success helped open the door to Tank Younger and others. By 1950 there were 14 African-Americans in the NFL and nine played in the Championship game: Younger, (Deacon) Dan Towler, Harry Thompson, Woodley Lewis, and Bob Boyd of the Rams, and Len Ford, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and Horace Gillom of the Browns.
That Cleveland beat the Rams 30-28 with a field goal in the final nine seconds was just a small part of a bigger story that plays out today.
Re: Rams In NFL, Sports Forefront of Innovation and Diversity
Hat's off to the Rams! The helmet insignia thing was brilliant, I'm sure glad someone thought of it, 'cause the alternative would be pretty boring.
My knee-jerk reaction to hearing the diversity stuff is rolled eyes, but that's me viewing the world through the prism of the last couple of decades. It's good to be reminded that there was a time when discrimination and prejudice were real and were the rule nationwide, and that the signing of black players by the Rams was revolutionary and ground breaking.
An ovation for the Rams!
Re: Rams In NFL, Sports Forefront of Innovation and DiversityThe Rams were the first team with a female owner, Georgia Frontiere, who succeeded her late husband in 1979.JUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS
"HIT HARD, HIT FAST, AND HIT OFTEN"Adm. William "Bull" Halsey