Friday, October 16, 2009

"If I Have to Integrate Heaven, I Don't Want to Go"

I have authored several pieces that lament the sorry state of the writing business today (my most recent such offering can be found here). Some readers have requested that--in addition to providing on-point critiques of poor writing/editing--I also give examples of excellent writing/editing. The sad truth is that such examples are becoming increasingly hard to find but I agree that such praiseworthy efforts deserve recognition.

The October 12, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated features a powerful, moving and well researched Alexander Wolff article titled The NFL's Jackie Robinson. Wolff tells the story of Kenny Washington, a college teammate of Jackie Robinson who integrated--or, to be precise, re-integrated--the NFL, a league that employed black athletes initially before a shameful 12 year period (1934-46) during which an unwritten--but strictly followed--rule turned the league lily white. Wolff's companion piece at pioneers deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame--is also a must-read.

Washington only played briefly in the NFL, arriving on the scene past his prime with battle-scarred knees (he had starred for several seasons in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League). Washington's teammate Bob Waterfield--a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Rams to two NFL titles--eulogized Washington in 1971 by declaring, "If he had come into the NFL directly from UCLA, he would have been, in my opinion, the best the NFL had ever seen."

Washington's UCLA teammate Woody Strode also joined the Rams in 1946. Wolff's article cites a poignant quote from an unpublished interview that Strode did with Sports Illustrated shortly before Strode's death in 1994: "Integrating the NFL was the low point of my life. There was nothing nice about it. History doesn't know who we are. Kenny was one of the greatest backs in the history of the game and kids today have no idea who he is. If I have to integrate heaven, I don't want to go."

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