As one of league's first blacks, Ray Kemp was pioneer

ON THE NFL

September 18, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

Ray Kemp says it will be a sentimental moment for him.

As part of the NFL's 75th anniversary celebration -- it was 75

years ago yesterday that George Halas and his buddies founded the league in that Hupmobile showroom in Canton, Ohio -- Kemp and two other members of the first Pittsburgh Steelers team in 1933 will be honorary co-captains and participate in the coin toss today before the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game.

Kemp, who graduated from Duquesne in 1931, had been playing on Art Rooney's semi-pro team in Pittsburgh before Rooney was awarded an NFL team in 1933 when the blue laws were lifted in Pennsylvania.

"I always admired Rooney," Kemp said. "He gave me a chance to be a pioneer."

Kemp, 87, was a pioneer among pioneers.

He not only played on the first Steelers team, but he was one of the two blacks in the league before he left in 1934 to start a ## career as a coach and administrator at several black colleges.

"Considering the racial situation, it was a fun thing for me. You have to pay a price for being a pioneer," he said.

Kemp was one of just 13 blacks in the NFL in its formative stages, including one player-coach (Fritz Pollard), but there were none from 1934 until 1946.

"It was a gentlemen's agreement," Kemp said. "They weren't recruiting blacks anymore."

The banning of blacks for 12 years is a part of NFL history the

league acknowledges but doesn't celebrate. Since nobody paid much attention to the NFL in those days, nobody is sure why the owners decided in 1934 to stop signing black players.

There are two popular theories. One was that as the NFL tried to get recognition, it followed in the footsteps of baseball, which had always banned blacks. The other is that it was the idea of the late George Preston Marshall, the Washington Redskins owner who entered the league in 1932.

"He said there would never be a black man on his team," Kemp said. "He was an out-and-out racist."

The Redskins were the last team to integrate in 1962 when they traded for Bobby Mitchell.

When the NFL signed blacks again in 1946, it had none of the impact that Jackie Robinson had on baseball and the nation a year later because the NFL was still struggling for recognition.

The Rams moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946 and signed two blacks -- Kenny Washington and Woody Strode -- at the urging of officials there. Paul Brown, who founded the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Conference that year, signed two future Hall of Famers in 1946 -- Marion Motley and Bill Willis.

Kemp said the racism in football then was just part of the society at the time. "Sports is a microcosm of our society," he said.

Sports have changed -- at least on the field. Off the field, the NFL has a long way to go before it has true integration in its front offices.

Bonanza

The end of the baseball season is likely to mean a ratings bonanza for the NFL. The league usually hits a lull from late September through late October, when the baseball pennant races, playoffs and World Series take center stage.

For the first two weeks this year, the ratings on NBC are up 14 percent and the Fox ratings are 13 percent higher than last year's CBS ratings because there has been no competition from baseball. They should continue to be higher through the end of October.

The flip side is that they are likely to go back down next year, presuming that baseball has solved its labor problems by then.

If the NFL is any barometer, the baseball fans will be back next year.

Remember, the NFL survived all kinds of labor strife in the 1980s and came out of it bigger than ever.

It never lost a Super Bowl, but it lost half a season in 1982 and went through the ordeal of replacement games in 1987.

It also suffered through all the irrational behavior that baseball is now coping with. In 1982, the players asked for 55 percent of the gross revenues tied to a wage scale. There would have been no free agency and no holdouts.

The owners still rejected it, and now they're paying 64 percent of the revenue and have free agency and holdouts -- and the popular wisdom is that they have a great deal. Nobody ever said logic entered into these bitter sports disputes.

Warning

If the Packers-Eagles game at 1 p.m. is a good one, remember that you may not see the ending. At 4 p.m., the Redskins-Giants game will bump the Packers-Eagles game, even if it isn't over.

All Redskins road games must be shown from start to finish in Baltimore. The home games are optional.

A year late

From the Baltimore perspective, St. Louis solved its lease situation one year too late.

If it had done it a year ago at this time, St. Louis probably would have gotten the second expansion team instead of Jacksonville, Fla., and Baltimore would be the leading candidate to get the Los Angeles Rams, despite the opposition of commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Owner Georgia Frontiere probably wouldn't have considered Jacksonville.

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