Woody Strode in NFL History
Woody Strode (1914-1995) was a star football player at UCLA in the late 1930s. Along with former UCLA teammate Kenny Washington, Strode became the first African-American to play in the modern NFL after signing with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. After retiring from football, Strode went on to a very successful second career as a Hollywood actor, starring in such films as Spartacus (1960), The Professionals (1966), and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Strode played only a single season in the NFL, suffering from a lack of playing time and constant racial abuse, both verbal and physical, from opponents and teammates alike. After the 1946 season, he left the NFL to play in the Canadian Football League, then briefly found work as a professional wrestler before launching his film career. Though today Strode is hailed as a sports pioneer for his role in desegregating the NFL, the player himself did not remember his NFL experience fondly. "If I have to integrate heaven," Strode told a reporter in 1971, "I don't want to go."