Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football

Watch Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football

  • 2014
  • 1 Season
  • 7.9  (35)

Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football is a 2014 documentary from Epix that explores the story of the first four African American football players who broke the color barrier in professional football. Narrated by actor Jeffrey Wright, the film tells the story of Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, and Bill Willis, who paved the way for integration in a sport that was at the time overwhelmingly white.

The film begins by setting the stage for the racial climate in America in the 1940s. Segregation was the norm in most aspects of American life, and sports were no exception. The National Football League had a longstanding unwritten rule that prohibited African Americans from playing in the league. Despite their athletic prowess and talent, black players were relegated to playing in separate leagues, often for lower pay and without the same opportunities to showcase their skills.

The first player featured in the film is Kenny Washington. Washington was a standout football player in high school and college, but by the time he was ready to turn pro, the NFL's ban on black players was in full effect. Washington instead played for a semipro team in Los Angeles, where he quickly drew attention for his ability on the field. Despite his talent, however, he was still considered too controversial to play in the league.

Woody Strode, another black player who was also forced to play in semipro leagues, found success in Hollywood as a stuntman and actor. He and Washington eventually landed on the same team, the Los Angeles Bulldogs, where they dominated on the field and drew the attention of the NFL.

The film then shifts to the story of Marion Motley, a talented running back who played for the Cleveland Browns in a separate, all-black league. Browns head coach Paul Brown, however, recognized Motley's potential and convinced team owner Arthur McBride to sign him to the team, making Motley the first black player in the modern-era NFL. Motley was a force on the field, but he still faced racism and discrimination from fans and other players.

Bill Willis, the final player featured in the film, faced similar obstacles. After serving in World War II, Willis returned home and joined the Cleveland Browns. He, like Motley, faced racial slurs and discrimination from fans and other players, but he continued to perform at a high level, helping to lead the Browns to multiple championships.

Throughout the film, interviews with family members, former teammates, and historians provide insight into the experiences of these early black players. The documentary also explores the role that politics and social movements played in the integration of football, including the influence of civil rights leader Paul Robeson and President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order desegregating the military.

Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football is a powerful look at the history of professional football, and the men who fought to break down racial barriers on the field. It's a story that is often overlooked in the larger context of the civil rights movement, but it's a crucial one in understanding the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the United States. With its engaging storytelling, expert analysis, and rarely seen archival footage, this documentary is a must-see for sports fans and history buffs alike.

Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football
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Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football
1. Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football
September 23, 2014
Family members and sports historians look back at the struggles and broad cultural impact of Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, Bill Willis and Marion Motley, four African American athletes. In 1946 they broke through professional football's color barrier.
  • Premiere Date
    September 23, 2014
  • IMDB Rating
    7.9  (35)