On May 9, 2006, the Ohio General Assembly will honor Bill Willis a former Cleveland Browns player and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with a Commendation by the House of Representatives and Senate. The Commendation is in recognition of Willis’ historic role in the re-integration of professional football in America in 1946. This year marks the 60th anniversary of that historic event.
In 1946, four players – Willis, Marion Motley, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode – broke pro football’s “color barrier” by signing contracts to play professional football. Willis and Motley signed with the Cleveland Browns of the newly organized All-America Football Conference, while Washington and Strode signed to play for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. Willis is the only surviving member of this pioneering quartet.
These historic signings occurred one year prior to the more publicized signing by Jackie Robinson to a baseball contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers and during a time when African Americans faced harsh discrimination.
While Washington played only three seasons with the Rams and Strode just one, Willis and Motley had long and distinguished careers in both the AAFC and NFL. Both eventually earned pro football’s highest honor, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bill Willis’ HOF Bio >>>
Commendation from the Members of the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate
On behalf of the members of the Senate of the 126th General Assembly of Ohio, we are pleased to extend special recognition to William Karnet Willis on the Sixtieth Anniversary of your signing a professional football contract.
You are a remarkable individual, and your legacy as one of pro football’s African-American pioneers serves as a source of inspiration for many. Your signing of a professional football contract helped to end segregation in professional sports. Commencing with your career with the Cleveland Browns of the former All-America Football Conference in 1946, you helped your team win several AAFC and National Football League titles while earning all-league recognition seven times. Also appearing in three NFL Pro Bowls, you were named an inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, and your ability to overcome social and racial boundaries and excel in your sport is worthy of emulation.
Your accomplishments are a justifiable source of pride and an excellent reflection not only on you but also on your family, your community, and the historical integrity of the NFL. You are truly deserving of high praise, and we are certain that your groundbreaking contributions to the game of professional football will continue to create opportunities for countless others.
Thus, with sincere pleasure, we commend you on your personal success and salute you as one of Ohio's finest athletes.
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