Ravens Get A Black History Lesson on Bill Willis

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USA Today sportswriter Jarrett Bell did an excellent piece in today’s edition on the passing of Bill Willis, one of four black men to integrate the National Football League in 1946.

Interestingly enough, Bell ventured to speak with several members of the Baltimore Ravens about their memories and knowledge of Willis. Neither Derrick Mason, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden or Ed Reed had any knowledge of Willis or his impact on professional sports.

That’s not a condemnation of the players, because when you think of African-Americans and our early history in sports, Jackie Robinson is the name most commonly thought of. The names of Willis, Chuck Cooper, Willie O’Ree and Jack Johnson are not in the regular talks on history in football, basketball, hockey and boxing.

To be honest, I had only heard of Bill Willis, but did not know about immense talent as a collegian at Ohio State and later with the Cleveland Browns.

Willis died at the age of 86 on the same day that the NFL tragically lost Sean Taylor. And much like Taylor, we should learn to appreciate the contributions of players like Willis, long before they are gone.