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Ryan Patrick Hooper

Article by Joshua Neuman for Slate — “Why isn’t Kenny Washington an American icon?” — shines a light on the little-known legacy of former football player Kenny Washington, who broke the NFL’s color barrier a year before Jackie Robinson arrived in MLB to do the same.

When it comes to sports history, Kenny Washington is not a household name like Jackie Robinson. At least one writer wants to see that shift by telling the story of Washington becoming the first African-American soccer player to sign a professional league contract.

Joshua Neuman wrote the article “Why is Kenny Washington not an American icon?” for Slate. While Washington broke the color barrier in football a year before Robinson did the same for Major League Baseball, Neuman argues he’s often referred to as “Jackie Robinson” for a while, except the other way around.

“It’s unfair to the memory of Kenny Washington to present his desegregation from the NFL as a ‘Jackie Robinson moment’ when it’s quite the opposite.” —Josue Neuman

Robinson and Washington played sports together in college and grew up 6 miles apart in Los Angeles, but ended up with divergent careers with different sports heritages.

“Washington isn’t even in the Hall of Fame,” says Neuman, who joined CultureShift on WDET to talk about his story for Slate.


Listen: Joshua Neuman explains how Kenny Washington was upstaged by Jackie Robinson.


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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper is CultureShift’s award-winning host and producer on NPR station 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit. As a longtime arts and culture journalist and photographer, Hooper has covered stories for NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.

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