The Cleveland Browns are determined to build a culturally, socially and ethnically diverse organization
The Cleveland Browns are building a culturally diverse organization under the leadership of Dee and Jimmy Haslam. The NFL has plenty of problems, many of which have been ignored for way too long, but the Browns are way out in front in a number of areas.
From the beginning, the Browns were a focal point for racial integration in the sport. Everyone knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in baseball in 1947, but how many know that the Cleveland Browns integrated the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) with two Hall of Fame players in 1946?
That would be fullback Marion Motley and defensive tackle Bill Willis. Kenny Washington and Woody Strode joined the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL that same year. The decision to include African Americans was not met with universal acclaim. It meant, among other things, that the Browns were not allowed to bring those players to play the Miami Seahawks because integrated sports teams were forbidden by law.
Can you imagine a hotel refusing to accommodate the Cleveland Browns because of race? Check out this account as late as 1961 from Michael McCambridge, in America’s Game (Anchor, 2008).
"“When the Cleveland Browns returned to Miami for the 1961 Playoff Bowl, the consolation game for the runners-up in each conference, Paul Brown brought his entire team. But he was greeted by a hotel manager who informed him that the club’s black players would have to stay elsewhere. “No, our team stays together,” said Brown firmly. After a heated exchange, the manager stood his ground. “I’ll tell you what then,” said Brown. “We’ll just get back on the plane and go back home.” The hotel capitulated, a crisis was averted, and the Browns integrated Miami hotels on that evening."
This story is just a single anecdote, but volumes of books and articles have been collected documenting similar incidents. So when some of the old guys talk about racism in the NFL, do not blow them off, because it was and is very real.
Probably the most famous advocate for social justice was Jim Brown, who was involved at the community level in Cleveland and later in Los Angeles when he became a full-time movie star. He founded the Black Economic Union (BEU) which helped to set up businesses in the Cleveland area, and later was involved with the Coors Golden Door program and Jobs Plus.
He also founded Vital Issues and Amer-I-Can, which worked with inner-city gang members and prison inmates to create legitimate small businesses, education, and personal growth. Incidentally, Brown helped to set a Community Center for youth, as part of the Karamu House, and Norman Jordan, the father of Eric, was the director of that Community Center in the early days. Eric Jordan helped to contribute to this article and is quoted on the next slide.
Brown’s teammate and friend John Wooten, also made strong contributions to diversity in the NFL as well as in local communities. After Wooten’s playing days were over, he eventually became Director of Pro Scouting with the Dallas Cowboys from 1975 to 1991.
Among other roles, he served as the Chair of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which sought to promote the inclusion of minority candidates for high-level coaching and general manager positions in the NFL. The Alliance was named after Fritz Pollard, who was the first African American player and coach in the NFL at its inception; though sadly the NFL later established a policy banning minorities.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance greatly influenced Dan Rooney and the NFL Diversity Committee and resulted in the so-called Rooney Rule, which basically says that NFL teams need to interview minorities before making. The Rooney Rule could have been called the Wooten rule.
Some of the slowest positions to be integrated in the NFL include the quarterback position, head coach and general manager. These positions represent the face of the franchise as well as the ability to control and administer the team.