UCLA honors iconic former Bruins Storey, Washington, Strode

WESTWOOD, Calif. – Before Saturday’s game against Memphis, UCLA honored former Bruins Sam Storey, Kenny Washington, and Woody Strode for their play on the field and for racially integrating the UCLA squad, Storey in 1933, and the NFL, Washington and Strode in 1946.

Family members of the men served as honorary team captains for the coin toss.

“They asked me if I wanted to move closer,” said Kenny Washington’s daughter, Karin Washington Cohen, who at five feet was dwarfed by the players. “If I were any closer I wouldn’t be able to see anything, I was standing next to trees,” she laughed, referring to 6-foot-3 defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa and six-foot-4 center Jake Brendel.

Woody Strode’s son, Kalai, captured much of the pre-game festivities on a digital camera. “My dad would have appreciated this,” Kalai Strode said. “This is special.”

Sam Storey was one of the first African-Americans to letter in football at UCLA, playing lineman for the Bruins in 1933 and 1934. In 1934, he was named 3rd team all-conference, an acknowledgement then so rare for black players that UCLA’s football coach Bill Spaulding said it was like being named an All-American.

Just three years later, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode arrived in Westwood and quickly formed one of the most feared passing-receiving tandems on the West Coast. Washington nearly spearheaded an upset of the USC Trojans in 1937 and then he and Strode led UCLA to an undefeated season two years later. In 1939 Washington became the program’s first All-American and won the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate player.

But neither man was drafted by the NFL. The league had an unofficial, but no less real, ban on black players from 1934 on. So Washington and Strode played semi-pro ball for the Hollywood Bears and Strode served in the military during World War II.

In 1946, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles and that spring the Rams signed Washington and later Strode. Neither had a long pro career, being past their athletic primes when signed. However, Washington still holds the Rams franchise record for longest run from scrimmage and Strode led the Calgary Stampeders to their first Grey Cup championship in 1948.

One of Washington and Strode’s teammates on the 1939 UCLA football team, Jackie Robinson, would become far better known for breaking color lines in pro sports even though his debut for major league baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers happened a year after Washington and Strode integrated the NFL.

A documentary film “The Forgotten Four” seeks to close that awareness gap. “The Forgotten Four” explores the careers and lives of both Washington and Strode and the two other African American players signed that year, Bill Willis and Marion Motley. The film’s Los Angeles premiere will be Tuesday, September 9 at 7pm PT at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. “The Forgotten Four” will air on EPIX Tuesday, September 23 at 8pm ET.

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