If I were to ask most die hard sports fans “who broke the color barrier in baseball” most quickly say “Jackie Robinson.” But when the sport changes to football I usually get puzzled looks.
Marion Motley broke the color barrier in professional football in 1946 with the Cleveland Browns. Motley served in the US Navy during World War 2 and played football for a military team that was coached by Paul Brown. After the war Brown went to go coach the Browns and Motley wrote a letter to him looking to play. At first, Brown said no. But he decided to bring Motley in so he could room with another African American teammate Bill Willis. Marion Motley broke the color barrier in football, but unlike Jackie Robinson, he had some help. He also did it 7 months before Robinson was called up to the Dodgers. When the 1946 season started Motley, and Willis, along with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode broke the pro football color barrier together. Motley however, was the best of the bunch.
Motley was a dominating fullback and linebacker. Fellow Hall of Famer Joe Perry referred to Motley as the greatest all around football player ever. Motley won an NFL Championship in 1950, the same year he led the league in rushing. He was a 2 time Pro-Bowler as he averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his career. He was raised in Canton Ohio and was enshrined forever in 1968 when he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named #74 on the top 100 players in NFL history.
He, just like Robinson and the others who broke color barriers, dealt with extreme racism throughout his career. Including his post playing days as he attempted to get into coaching and was denied. Unable to secure a coaching job he took a job with the US post office, and the department of youth services. He passed away in 1999.