In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson signed with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, four players smashed pro football’s race barrier. The trailblazers were Marion Motley and Bill Willis, who signed with the Cleveland Browns of the new All-America Football Conference, and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who signed with the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams. Injuries ended Washington’s career after three seasons, while Strode played just the 1946 season.
Motley and Willis, however, went on to have Hall of Fame careers. Motley joined the Browns as a 26-year-old rookie. Browns’ coach Paul Brown was already familiar with Motley, having coached the big fullback at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during World War II.
He also knew Motley from his high school playing days in Canton, Ohio. Paul coached football at neighboring Massillon High School. Motley, with his powerful running on Cleveland's famed trap and draw series, made the Browns' ground game go, but he is also credited with vital contributions to the Cleveland passing attack, because his blocking for quarterback Otto Graham was exceptional.
At 6-1 and 232 pounds, Motley was an imposing figure. The constant threat of him hurtling up the middle kept the defenses honest. Marion was the AAFC's all-time rushing leader and also led the NFL in ground gaining in his initial season in the league in 1950. That year, in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the powerful Motley rushed for 188 yards on just 11 carries for a 17.1 yards-per-carry average.
In his nine professional seasons, he amassed 4,720 yards on 828 carries for an amazing 5.7 yards-per-carry average. When he retired Marion held a host of Browns' club records. In addition to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1968, Motley was named in 1994 to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Marion Motley was one of Cleveland's best running backs who excelled on draw plays and screen passes. He also was the second African American player to be voted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
The late Earle Brown, who was a very good friend of Motley, was a major facilitator of his golf tournament right up to the year he died. Brown was a former Globetrotter and served as president of the American Center for Dispute Settlement and established one of the first "Arbitration as an Alternative" programs in the United States in East Cleveland Proceeds from the golf tournaments will go to the Marion Motley Scholarship Fund which awards scholarships to students from the Greater Cleveland area attending institutes of higher learning.
Most football fans remember Marion Motley for bringing power football to Cleveland, which was later carried on by Jim Brown. He was the top NFL rusher in 1950. He caught 85 passes, scored 234 points in nine years. He was one of the National Football League's first black players of the modern era and one of its best fullbacks ever.
As told by the great Sean Lahman in The Pro Football Historical Abstract, Motley's NFL numbers simply don't tell the story. There are two good reasons for that. First, Motley spent nearly five years after college serving in the U.S. Navy, costing him most of his prime football years. The second problem is that when he did turn pro, he started his career in the AAFC, a league that didn't have much competitive balance. Motley was an unstoppable avalanche, completely overwhelming opposing defenses. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and helped the Cleveland Browns compile a 47-4-3 record and win all four AAFC Championships. Motley led the NFL in rushing yards in 1950, his (and the Browns') first year in the league. He was already thirty by this time, and injuries were beginning to take their toll."
In 1948, he led the Browns to a perfect 15-0 record and rushed 14 times for 133 yards and 3 scores in the championship game. Motley would blast from the inside yet he had the speed to go outside. He made most of his yardage on trap plays, on which a defensive lineman was allowed to penetrate the line of scrimmage, then was trapped, this allowed Motley to run through the vacated area. Motley was quotes as saying ''The trap was a fantastic play, but I was seldom sent outside. There's no telling how much yardage I might have made if I ran as much as some backs do now.''
Motley retired before the 1954 season due to suffering many injuries. But after a year off he returned and played in 1955 with the Steelers. He had to retire again after a few games due to more injuries. After retiring he scouted players for the Browns, and he wanted to coach. At the time, racism frequently prevented minorities from obtaining coaching jobs and he was turned down on most offers.
My Thoughts on my great uncle “Marion Motley”
I can remember the time I spent with my uncle just like yesterday, my sister and I would spend our summers in Canton Ohio with him and my great aunt Iona Shephard. The many memories that I hold dear to my heart will never be forgotten. His House still Stands today and is still owned by our family..