Marion Motley, who starred for the Nevada football team and broke barriers in the NFL, was memorialized last week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Several hundred people were at Stadium Park in Canton on Wednesday, Aug. 3, to see the new Marion Motley memorial, which depicts Motley, one of the first Black professional football players of the modern era, amid protest placards.
Four of Motley’s grandchildren were at the event and they pulled back the cover on the bronze sculpture.
The statue is in front of a brick wall with the names of donors on one side and “1946” on the other.
Statue in Motley’s hometown
Motley grew up in Canton. He played fullback and linebacker at Nevada from 1940 to 1942 and was inducted in Nevada’s first Hall of Fame class in 1973. He joined the Navy during World War II, then played for the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons starting in 1946.
At Nevada, he also returned several kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 105-yarder in 1941 that is still tied for the school record.
While Motley was at Nevada, a Reno reporter wrote that, “In Marion Motley, the ball club has one of the best backs in the entire nation.”
In 1946, Motley, then 26 years old and married with four children, was working in a mill in Canton when he was given a chance to try out for the Browns.
Motley made the Cleveland squad, and in 1946, he, Brown’s teammate Bill Willis and two players signed by the Los Angeles Rams broke the color line in modern professional football.
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Motley played nine seasons of professional football, eight with the Browns (1946-53) and one with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1955). He was the all-time rushing champion of the All-America Football Conference and led the National Football League in rushing in 1950.
Motley rushed for 4,720 yards in his career and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Motley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton in 1968, becoming the second African American to earn the sport’s highest honor.
Motley played high school football at McKinley High School in Canton.
High school football coach led charge for memorial
Antonio Hall, a member of the memorial committee and current head football coach at McKinley, was instrumental in getting the memorial constructed.
Hall told the Canton Repository newspaper that Motley’s legacy went beyond his football career. He told the newspaper that he was moved to action two years ago when his students, yet again, did not know of Motley.
“I vowed at that time that I was going to do something to educate people in this community and remember this forgotten hero,” Hall told the Repository.
Memorial fund committee members Dave Jingo, Jill Thomas, Mike Hairston, Hall and RJ Van Almen raised about $128,500 for the statue over the past two years. They thanked Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels in particular, who donated $90,000 towards the effort.
Canton artist Spyro Spondyl created the conceptual design, and architect Rodney Meadows turned it into an architectural rendering. Massillon Plaque worked with sculptures in Italy, who crafted the bronze statue.
Motley’s son, Ronald Motley Sr., told the Repository that the ceremony was an “awakening” for him about who he had as a father.
Motley died from prostate cancer in 1999.
Jim Krajewski covers high school and youth sports for the Reno Gazette Journal. Follow him on Twitter @RGJPreps. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.