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When I look at the players that comprise the NFL, I do not see Black and White. I see a rainbow. When I look in the stands on any given NFL Sunday, the bleachers are an even larger, more diverse rainbow. My Super/bowl footballs depict the current national make-up of the NFL. From players to fans, from vendors to coaches. It wasn’t always this way. Like every other sport, Blacks had to fight for the right to play football.
Though pro football included 13 black players through the 1920s and early ’30s, the integration of the sport did not truly begin until 1946 when the Los Angeles Rams signed running back Kenny Washington and receiver Woody Strode, and the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference signed offensive tackle Bill Willis and running back Marion Motley. In 1949, 3 of the 10 N.F.L. teams had black players. By 1955, the Redskins were the lone holdout in the 12-team league.
The integration of the Redskins was 16 years in the making, brought on, at least in part, by the combined efforts of the N.F.L.’s commissioner and a member of President Kennedy’s cabinet. The Redskins were owned by George Preston Marshall, who was born in segregated West Virginia to native Washingtonians. He attended segregated high schools in Washington. His family counted a Confederate flag among its heirlooms.
As for integrating his team, Marshall said that many fans preferred watching white players and would reject the Redskins if they had a black player.
Are you shocked? Don’t be. This wasn’t anything new. The struggle for Blacks to play baseball is well documented. However with baseball, Blacks formed their own leagues, and I am proud to say that my Grandfather, Milfred Laurent, is in the Negro league Hall of Fame.
55 years after the Washington Redskins finally relented and allowed Blacks to play on their team in 1962, another controversy arises when Colin Kapaernick refused to stand for the national anthem. Part of his refusal to stand was due to the alarming number of Black men being killed by police. He refused to stand for an anthem that says, “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave”. The reality is Black men are not free. As long as we are treated differently because of the color of our skin, we will never be seen as equal.
The end of these reasons saw the ranks of Black head coaches reduced by four leaving only three Black NFL coaches in place.
I manage to do with art what we can’t seem to do on earth. I am able to take every color under the rainbow and integrate them, so that they all live harmoniously. No one color is more important than the other. My entire palette is stoked with equality.