Breaking Through: The Reintegration of Pro Football, an exhibit created by National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in collaboration with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Cincinnati Bengals is now on exhibit at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. The exhibit was at the Freedom Center from September to January.
The exhibit celebrates the reintegration of professional football in 1946. Although many important contributors to the permanent integration of pro football are included, the exhibit focuses on three Hall of Fame members: Paul Brown, the original coach of the Cleveland Browns and later the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, and former Browns players Marion Motley and Bill Willis.
In 1946, a full year before baseball great Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Brown signed two African American players he knew from earlier coaching days, a bruising lineman named Bill Willis, and powerful fullback Marion Motley. Brown and his two players went on to Hall of Fame careers, but more importantly; Motley and Willis' appearance in Browns uniforms and their eventual successes were the first steps in the permanent integration of professional football.
This exhibit tells the story of these three men and how their passion for the game overcame the barriers of discrimination and changed the course of pro football forever. Artifacts on loan from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and a brief video produced by NFL Films, are featured in the exhibit.
Breaking Through: The Reintegration of Pro Football is open to the public free of charge in the Ohio Statehouse Map Room through February 28 in honor of Black History Month.
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Breaking Through: The Reintegration of Pro Football opens at National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Willis receives commendation