Nov 292007
 November 29, 2007  Posted by  Uncategorized

Bill Willis passed away this week. The name might not mean anything to many of you but to me he was a hero and a trailblazer. Mr. Willis was the last of the original 4 African-American football players who re-intergrated the National Football League in 1946. Of that group were Mr. Willis and Marion Motley who played for the Cleveland Browns and Woodie Strode and Kenny Washington were signed to play for the Los Angeles Rams. In history books much has been written of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional baseball but very little is ever mentioned of those who did the same in professional football.

With the murder of the Redskins safety Sean Taylor, Mr. Willis’ passing will only earn a slight mention in most national newspapers. But every African-American football player who ever played in the National Football League should say a prayer and give thanks to Bill Willis and the others who paved the way for others. As a fellow Hall of Famer I was honored to be in his presence at Hall of Fame activities. As Executive Director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance I was humbled to be a part of an organization that honored Mr. Willis (or as my mother would say “give him his flowers while he could smell them”) in February at the last NFL Combine Reception in Indianapolis. As an African American football player I thank him, Mr. Strode, Mr. Washington and Mr. Motley for the scarafices they knowingly or unknowingly made for players that followed them. As a man I’m honored to have shared a seat with him on the bus as we traveled from our hotel to the golf course when we participated in Mike Ditka’s Golf Tournament on August 27th in Chicago. Mr. Willis wanted to know what was happening with the retired player’s issues. We spent much of that ride talking about those issues. At the end of the ride he encouraged us as retired players to continue the fight for all players.

Rest in Peace Mr. Willis……

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