Kenny Washington is most famous for breaking the unofficial colour barrier in the NFL as the first black player to play in the league in 13 years. Walking Alone is a comprehensive biography of Washington which demonstrates how that achievement, impressive as it was, barely scratches the surface of Washington’s remarkable talent.
Washington grew up in LA and was a phenom at both football and baseball. He became a legendary tailback at UCLA (at a time when there were only 25 black players in college football) as well as a leading baseball player for the Bruins. Many believed he was an even better ball player than his teammate Jackie Robinson, including Robinson himself, and could easily have been the first, and almost was the second, player to integrate baseball. He was 27 and injured by the time the LA Rams signed him in 1946, but given his talent, had he been able to play sooner, he may have gone down in history as one of the the greatest professional footballers of all time. He was also a movie star appearing in a number of movies both before and after his time in pro football.
Most remarkable is just how talented Washington was. His performances, combined with a winning personality, gave him a huge following and fanbase at UCLA and beyond. His superiority and popularity was so great that the the racism he faced could only hold him back but not fully defeat him. The absurdity of the best player in the sport having to play in minor leagues was a major factor in the NFL finally lifting its unofficial ban on black players. His example helped embolden other US sports to follow suit and integrate.
Dan Taylor has written a comprehensive and excellent biography shining a light on remarkable talent and the impact Washington had as well as the challenges and racism he overcame. It brilliantly captures the American sporting landscape of the late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and the difficulties of black athletes at the time. Walking Alone is well researched, well written and an enjoyable engaging read.