Three pioneers deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
I've just come up from a months-long burrowing through the tunnels and warrens of pro football history. The result can be found in
I emerged blinking in the sunlight, rubbing my eyes, and determined to fire off this message to the good folks in Canton.
Three men deserve enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- as a player in at least one case, as a contributor in all three.
The easiest argument to be made is on behalf of UCLA's
When the Rams finally signed him in 1946, Washington was well past his prime, yet he turned in three creditable NFL seasons, including a 1947 campaign in which his performance -- he led the league in total yardage, average yards per carry (7.4) and the longest run from scrimmage (92 yards) -- hinted at what he could have done if only he hadn't been cheated of six years. Upon Washington's death in 1971, former Rams teammate
It's the Pro Football, not NFL, Hall of Fame, so Washington deserves all credit for those minor league seasons on the West Coast. So does
The most obscure and colorful of the three was a black sportswriter named
But he had a diplomatic, inspirational side too. When the Rams, new in town after a move from Cleveland, appealed to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission for a lease, Harding showed up at the hearing to deliver a pointed, moving and ultimately persuasive speech. Black tax dollars helped build and maintain the Coliseum, Harding argued; its tenants should not be allowed to discriminate. (No transcript of Harding's speech has survived, but Strode's son
But Harding wasn't through. The Los Angeles Dons of the rival All-American Football Conference were also new to Southern California, and they got a lease from the Coliseum Commission too, even though the Dons had failed even to grant a black player a tryout. So Harding made them a target. He used his column to ridicule the Dons for failing to include among their 70 signees two of Washington and Strode's black PCFL teammates: "Let's see, what were their names now? Oh, yeah, two unknowns around here: Big Chuck Anderson and lanky Ezzerett [sic] Anderson, whom the Dons could well use but don't know about, they say. Fact is, they could use this pair like Gandhi could use a safety pin."
After the Dons drew only 18,000 to their Coliseum opener, Harding crowed: "It isn't any guess at all why the suntanned tenth of the body politic didn't show ... The Dons have been singularly stubborn about their prejudice against non-Caucasian players."
By the following season the Rams had seamlessly integrated Washington and Strode, and future Hall of Famers
The NFL's decision to resegregate an integrated league was driven by men with some of the most storied names in the game.
In 1926, when the Canton Bulldogs visited the Polo Grounds to take on the New York Giants, and Giants players refused to share the field with Canton's black running back,
Of course Halas, Mara and Marshall are all enshrined in Canton.
It has been slow, but change has finally come to the NFL. The Rooney family, longtime stewards of the Pittsburgh Steelers and at least an acquiescer to the bigotry of the '30s and '40s, can point with justifiable pride to its championing of the Rooney Rule, which obliges NFL teams with a head coaching or senior football operations vacancy to at least interview a minority candidate.
Washington, Strode and Harding were Hall of Fame-quality contributors, and induction for them would constitute long-deserved recognition. At the same time the Hall could provide for many of the NFL's founding families, whose escutcheons are stained by those 12 shameful seasons, a kind of indirect, belated atonement.