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Bill Willis, Marion Motley to receive Ralph Hay Pioneer Award from Pro Football Hall of Fame

Willis and Motley were a part of the “Forgotten Four,” a group of players that reintegrated pro football in 1946


Bill Willis and Marion Motley are set to receive another big honor from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The two Browns players who were a part of the "Forgotten Four," the name often used to reference the four African Americans who helped break the pro football color barrier, have been selected to share the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Ralph Hay Pioneer Award. Willis and Motley will be honored with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the other two players of the Forgotten Four.

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."

"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."

Willis and Motley both joined the Browns in 1946. Willis was a powerful defensive tackle and spent eight years in Cleveland, earning 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. Motley was a running back who scored 31 touchdowns across eight seasons with the Browns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.

Both players held vital roles in reintegrating pro football in their first year with the Browns in the All-America Football Conference. Two future Pro Football Hall of Famers — Fritz Pollard and Duke Slate — were the first to integrate the game in 1920 and 1922, respectively.

The Browns have honored both players via the Bill Willis Coaching Diversity Fellowship, currently held by Israel Woolfork, and an annual scholarship named after Motley.

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