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Remembering forgotten hero Kenny Washington

Washington, an alumnus of L.A.'s Lincoln High, broke the NFL's color line a year before Jackie Robinson reached the major leagues. Some at Lincoln hope to give him long-delayed recognition.

October 11, 2011|Bill Plaschke

"I remember our father telling us that we had no idea how hard it was for our grandfather," said grandson Kraig Washington. "Those were painful times that weren't easily discussed."

Another part of the problem is that, while baseball's integration by Jackie Robinson is easy to define, Washington's role was a bit more complicated because a handful of blacks competed in pro football in the 1920s before the unofficial policy of segregation began in the new reconfigured NFL in 1934.

Yet, both officially and unofficially, Washington will forever be football's Jackie Robinson. His strength in facing a league so hostile was reportedly one of Branch Rickey's inspirations in signing Robinson a year later.

To find him today, you can check out the Kenny Washington Trophy given to the outstanding Lincoln football player every season, as it sits in the principal's office. And as of Friday night, Washington's number has been retired and a drawing of his jersey sits on a school wall far beyond one of the end zones.

Or you can check out Mark Shump, a Lincoln social studies teacher who recently purchased a throwback jersey that looked like something Washington might have worn at Lincoln. He is going to stitch a No. 13 on the jersey, put it in a frame, and hang it on a school wall.

"These kids have to remember him somehow," Shump said.

Welcome to Kenny Washington's house, where his memories will only live if they can be built from scratch.

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