If you think of the 32 owners of the National Football League,” asks Keyshawn Johnson. “How many of them do you think truly have Black friends?”
Johnson won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. He’s also the co-author of a recent book — “The Forgotten First: Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and the Breaking of the NFL Color Barrier.”
But while the book belongs in the history aisle, Johnson argues it’s as relevant as ever given the NFL’s incomplete reckoning with race and lack of diversity within its higher ranks — crystalized lately in a lawsuit brought by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.
For Johnson, it’s the team owners who create the biggest barrier for change, rather than the league itself. “The NFL is a governing body, it’s a part of them. But they make their own minds and decisions up.” Johnson says. “We got to get the owners to start to think like the NFL, as opposed to their country club members and their bingo playing partners.”
Johnson’s book, co-authored by Newsday football columnist Bob Glauber, tells the story of the Black athletes who desegregated football on the gridiron itself. In 1946, Kenny Washington became the first Black athlete in the modern era to sign an NFL contract, joining the league’s Los Angeles Rams and breaking the color barrier a year before his former roommate at UCLA, Jackie Robinson, did the same in Major League Baseball.
Today few people know the full story of the man nicknamed “Kingfisher,” though the NFL will be honoring his legacy ahead of this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Will and LZ are joined by Johnson and Glauber, and by Kenny Washington’s grandson, Kraig Washington.