Breaking Barriers: The Unsung Heroes of Integration in Pro Sports

Jim Crow South in the 20th Century Black History Month is nearing its end, and we will take this time to remember those that fought for the rights that minorities have today. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.” So when segregation began, and Jim Crow Laws separated whites from black, people fought very hard against it. Many failed, very few were successful. In the world of sports, everyone knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but most people have never heard of the athletes that broke the barriers in other sports. In the NFL, there was Kenny Washington. In the NHL, there was Willie O’Ree. In the NBA, there was Earl Lloyd. Each of these men went through a historic rise to the top during a trying time for African Americans, and should forever be remembered for the hard work and dedication they put towards achieving their dream.

Kenny Washington’s Football Card
African-American participation in sports continues to grow, and football is a prime example. Kenny Washington was one of the pioneers of this movement, as he was the first black man to ever sign an NFL contract. Time Magazine once said, “He was considered by West Coast fans the most brilliant player in the U.S.” Upong graduation from college, however, he was blocked from signing from an NFL team and decided to go to war. After World War II ended, in 1945, he decided to continue pursuing his goal to play in the NFL, and was signed by the Los Angeles Rams in the spring of 1946. His stint in the NFL lasted merely 3 years, but changed the demographics of the game forever.

O’Ree with the Bruins (Notice the lack of helmet)
Willie O’Ree overcame the odds to become the first black player in the NHL in 1958. His journey came with extra hurdles, as two years before his debut a hit from a wild puck had left him 95 percent blind in his right eye. After a brief stint with the Boston Bruins, he spent most of his career in the minor leagues, where he was inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions for his exceptional play on the ice.

Earl Lloyd Basketball Card
Of all the guys highlighted, Earl Lloyd definitely had the best professional career. Unlike the others, Lloyd had no significant acts to deter him by the heads of the game, but he carried himself professionally nontheless. An NBA champion in 1955, he finished his 9 year career with an average of 8 points and 6 rebounds per game. The Hall of Famer retired from the NBA in 1960 with over 4,000 points and 3,000 rebounds.

1992 US Olympic Dream Team
Professional sports would not be the same today if minorities had not been allowed to integrate the leagues. The NFL and NBA especially are sports where blacks are now the majority. All-time greats like Jim Brown, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Wilt Chamberlain are just a few that dominated the game are just a few that dominated sports in their respective eras because of the paths paved by their counterparts in the ’40s and ’50s. Although there is still much work to be done to prevent racial injustice and prejudice, the world is undoubtedly in a new era, and on the verge of true equality.

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