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Forgotten Four: The Cleveland Browns big impact on bringing black players into Pro Football


On Tuesday night, Epix will be premiering their documentary Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football. Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. for a history lesson you won't want to miss.

Football has become one of the most historical parts of our society. Super Bowl winning teams and coaches are revered like heroes and Hall of Famers such as such as Jim Brown and Jerry Rice have reached immortal status.

But there's one large story about the history of professional football that's gone untold for so many years.

The Cleveland Browns are at the center of the film. After coaching for years at Ohio State, Paul Brown had been chosen to be the first-ever head coach of the Cleveland franchise in 1946.

Brown was dead-set on putting the best football team on the field, and breaking the NFL's informal rule barring blacks from playing the sport. Brown signed Bill Willis, one of his former players at Ohio State and Marion Motley, a world-class 240-pound athlete who also served next to Brown in the Navy during World War II.

Brown built an atmosphere within the football team that bonded all the players together, no matter their skin color. Brown was a progressive thinker who not only developed new football concepts – the West Coast offense, the draw play and watching film – but also thought talent didn't have a skin color.

"This story shows that when there is a will and a desire to make things happen, great things can happen," said Clem Willis, Bill's son. "Dad, with the help of Paul Brown, was pioneer not only in football but in life. And year after year, his teams became champions."

While Willis and Motley thrived in Ohio, two other black players were not as openly received on the West coast. Even though the Los Angeles Rams signed African-Americans Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the players dealt with extreme bigotry and racial circumstances that made it tough to succeed.

The title of the documentary is appropriate. As time has passed, society has only truly recognized Jackie Robinson as breaking the color barrier. But in reality, Willis, Motley, Washington and Strode's impact was as big.  

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