‘Forgotten Four’ Selected For 2022 Ralph Hay Pioneer Award

CANTON, OHIO – In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson signed with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, four players – often called the Forgotten Four – smashed the race barrier that had existed for African Americans in professional football since the early 1930s.

Those trailblazers – Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who signed with the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams; and Hall of Famers BILL WILLIS and MARION MOTLEY, who signed with the Cleveland Browns of the new All-America Football Conference – have been selected to share the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award.

“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall President Jim Porter said. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation. Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever.”

The award, named for the former owner of the Canton Bulldogs who hosted the NFL’s formational meeting in Canton in 1920, was established in 1972. It is presented in recognition of “significant innovative contributions to professional football.”

Since its inception, the Pioneer Award has been presented only nine other times. The first recipient was Fred Gehrke, the Los Angeles Rams halfback who devised the idea of a helmet logo in 1948. Longtime NFL executive Joe Browne was the most recent recipient of the award, receiving it in 2016 after more than 50 years with the League.

The Forgotten Four reintegrated professional football in 1946, but two future Pro Football Hall of Famers – FRITZ POLLARD and DUKE SLATER – were the first to integrate the game in 1920 and 1922, respectively.

Here are brief biographies on each Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winner for 2022:

Kenny Washington, UCLA – Halfback – Los Angeles Rams 1946-48
After playing four seasons of semi-pro football with the Hollywood Bears in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League, Washington signed a contract with the Rams on March 21, 1946. He played only two seasons before his badly injured knees forced him to retire. The Rams’ leading rusher in 1947, Washington finished with 859 rushing yards and averaged 6.14 yards per carry during his brief three-year pro career. 

Woody Strode, UCLA – End – Los Angeles Rams 1946
Strode, who had starred with Washington and Jackie Robinson as backfield teammates on the 1939 UCLA football team, then joined the Hollywood Bears in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League (1940-42). When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Strode signed a contract with the Rams on May 7, 1946. A 31-year-old rookie, Strode played only the 1946 season with the Rams. He did, however, play for the Calgary Stampeders (WIFU) in 1948, winning a Grey Cup.

Bill Willis, Ohio State – Guard, Middle Guard – Cleveland Browns 1946-1953
Willis, who had starred at Ohio State under PAUL BROWN, signed with his old coach’s new Cleveland Browns team on Aug. 6, 1946. He quickly became a superstar as a defensive middle guard. In the eight years he played for the Cleveland Browns, he was a first-team all-league selection seven times and a second-team choice once. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Marion Motley, South Carolina State, Nevada – Fullback – 1946-53 Cleveland Browns, 1955 Pittsburgh Steelers
Motley had played for Paul Brown at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center during World War II. On Aug. 9, 1946, he signed a contract with his old coach to play for the Browns. With his powerful running on Cleveland's famed trap and draw series, Motley made the Browns' ground game a dominant force, and he also is credited with vital contributions to the Cleveland passing attack, because his blocking for quarterback OTTO GRAHAM was exceptional. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.

The Forgotten Four will be honored during the 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week Powered by Johnson Controls that includes the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in downtown Canton on Friday, Aug. 5, and the Class of 2022 Enshrinement on Saturday, Aug. 6, in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.


2016 – Joe Browne: Worked for over 50 years at the NFL, turning it into the most popular sport in the world. 
2012 – Art McNally: Devoted his entire professional career to officiating and pioneered numerous innovations for the NFL including instant replay.
2007 – Steve Sabol: President of NFL Films and honored filmmaker.
2004 – City of Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Loyal support of the NFL and undying spirit and pride in the history of the defunct Pottsville Maroons of the 1920s.
2001 – George Toma: NFL’s longtime head groundskeeper known as the “God of Sod.”
1992 – David Boss: Vice President and Creative Director for NFL Properties and noted photographer.
1986 – John Facenda: Legendary voice of NFL Films.
1975 – Arch Ward: Chicago Tribune sports editor who initiated Chicago All-Star Game that featured NFL champions vs. College All-Stars.
1972 – Fred Gehrke: Los Angeles Rams halfback who devised idea of logos on helmets and painted horns on Rams helmets in 1948.