Marion Motley was recognized as one of the gridiron’s most outstanding players when he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968 in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. His legacy off the field, as one of four Black players to reintegrate pro football in 1946, helped blaze a path for Black athletes in the highest echelons of professional sports, including baseball’s Jackie Robinson. Yet, the story of one of the sport’s greatest and most impactful players remains unknown to most Americans.
Black players once thrived during the early days of the NFL. Then a “gentleman’s agreement” among NFL owners in 1933 kept those players out of the highest level of the sport for the next 12 years. That changed in 1946. Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown, a native of Massillon, Ohio, was putting together the inaugural Cleveland Browns roster and signed Black players Motley and Bill Willis to be a part of it. That same year, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode also signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
Years earlier, Brown had coached his high school team against Motley’s. They formed a strong partnership first with a Navy team and then in Cleveland, where Motley twice led his league in rushing yards and helped the Browns win five championships. Motley’s efforts to play a physically brutal game in the face of societal racism and state-sanctioned Jim Crow laws helped reintegrate American sports. Yet half a century after Motley’s enshrinement to the Hall of Fame, the memory of Motley and his accomplishments on and off the field have begun to fade, including in the city where he first made his name.
This book tells Motley’s story of adversity, personal tragedy, and triumphs using archival interviews and new interviews with historians, friends, and descendants.
About the Author
David Lee Morgan Jr. is a former longtime sportswriter, high school English teacher, public speaker, and author. David Lee was also a co-producer of the 2022 regional Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary “Lines Broken: The Story of Marion Motley,” which was aired nationally on PBS and distributed by American Public Television. David Lee received his bachelor of arts degree in professional writing and editing from Youngstown State University, and his master of science degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University. David Lee is the author of nine books including LeBron James: The Rise of a Star, which was selected as one of the year’s best books for reluctant young adult readers by the American Library Association. The book also received starred editorial reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. David and his wife Jill enjoy their Northeast Ohio home in Canton (the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Marion Motley), with their two Labrador retrievers, D. J. and Donut. They also enjoy the regular visits from their seven adult children and three grandchildren. Visit David Lee online at www.davidleemorganjr.com.