Marion Motley, who played eight seasons for the Cleveland Browns, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
While fans will recognize his name, especially in Cleveland, not everyone may remember another important aspect of Motley’s career.
In 1946, Motley joined teammate Bill Willis, along with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode of the Los Angeles Rams, in breaking the NFL’s color barrier a full year before Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians did the same for Major League Baseball.
That part of Motley’s story is the focus of an upcoming documentary, Lines Broken: The Story of Marion Motley, which will debut on PBS Western Reserve and its Fusion channel on February 5.
The documentary is produced by David Lee Morgan Jr. and James Waters II, who also serves as a co-director. Paul Warfield, who is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a career with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, one of the people interviewed about Motley.
The fact that Motley, Willis, Washington and Strode went through the same type of prejudice as Robinson, but have largely been overlooked, inspired Waters to create the documentary, he told the Tribune Chronicle:
“The biggest thing we wanted to do was share that story, make more people aware of the forgotten four and that one of them came from Canton McKinley. Football trumps baseball today, but back then baseball was the national pastime, the all-American game. They didn’t take football as serious, I guess.”
Motley, who was an imposing 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, played for the Browns from 1946 through 1953, a period where the team played in eight consecutive championship games and winning five titles. He is still sixth on the franchise’s all-time list for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
He was the All-American Football Conference’s all-time rushing leader and led the NFL in rushing in 1950, the year the Browns joined the league. In his nine professional seasons (he played the 1955 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers), Motley ran for 4,720 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry average. In addition to being in the Hall of Fame, Motley was named in 1994 to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
In 2019, Motley was named to the NFL’s All-Time team as part of the league’s 100th-anniversary celebration.