Lost Champions: Four Men, Two Teams, and the Breaking of Pro Football’s Color Line

Gretchen Atwood. Bloomsbury, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-62040-600-7
Focusing on the 1946 Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams, sports journalist Atwood provides snapshots of the pro football game from the days of the old-T and the single-wing offense up to 1950, by which time most NFL teams ran a version of the modern-T offense. Before the early 1930s, many ranked professional football on the same level as pro-wrestling. But in 1946, a string of events challenged segregation. The NFL team Cleveland Rams relocated to Los Angeles and, through some coaxing, signed former UCLA Bruins players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. At nearly the same time, the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) signed Bill Willis and Marion Motley. Off the field, both cities had racial roadblocks for their citizens. Los Angeles County had seen a significant increase in antiblack restrictive housing covenants from 1920 up to 1946; in Cleveland, an interracial group launched a protest at Euclid Beach Park over the exclusionary policies that prevented black residents from using public facilities. That same summer, the nation saw a spike in lynching, including a quadruple lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge, Ga. Though these events mostly occurred independently and were spread throughout the country, Atwood succeeds in laying them out like a modern-day pro offense, powering the book’s narrative with the march to the 1950 NFL championship between the two teams that integrated professional football. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/25/2016
Release date: 09/06/2016
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