EPIX Original Documentary “Forgotten Four” with Six-time Pro Bowl Quarterback and Fox Sports NFL Commentator Donovan McNabb
Forgotten Four :Sports historians and family members recall the real-life struggles and broad cultural impact of four African American athletes – Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis – credited with breaking through professional football’s color barrier in 1946. Original documentary by 8-time Peabody Award winning producer Ross Greenburg. It premieres on EPIX on Tuesday, September 23 at 8pm ET.
The integration of professional football played a key part in the eventual AAFL and NFL merger, as Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns quickly became innovators in the way the game was played, and the players of color he brought to his team quickly became stars in the system he created. Brown’s relationship with Bill Willis was a long-standing one from their time at Ohio State. Despite being an innovator in elements like fan experience and game development, George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, was the owner who pushed all teams into segregation, and kept the league segregated until these four men were brought into the league. The Redskins were the last team in the NFL to have African American players on their roster. George Halas actually tried to keep players of color in the league, and then tried to integrate the league in the late 1930’s and both times was stopped by Marshall. Marion Motley and Bill Willis played an even bigger role in the integration of pro sports than many realized; as Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who was also the GM of the AAFL Brooklyn Dodgers football team, told Motley and Willis that if he hadn’t seen them play and be part of the Cleveland Browns, he might not have been able to push forward with bringing Jackie Robinson to the baseball Dodgers. Jackie Robinson, as a football player, also played a key role in our story, as he had teamed with Strode and at UCLA to help form one of the nation’s best football programs before he fully concentrated on baseball and his eventual role with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
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