Sept. 19, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bill Willis, one of the all-time great athletes to ever play at Ohio State, will be featured in a new EPIX original documentary entitled Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football. The film will make its premiere on Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 8 p.m. ET.
The 60-minute documentary, narrated by Tony Award winner Jeffrey Wright and produced by 52-time Emmy award winner Ross Greenburg, tells the little-known story of four African American men – Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Willis – who broke the color barrier in pro football in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were credited with integrating Major League Baseball.
A Buckeye lineman from 1942-44, Willis was a three-year starter – including two seasons for coach Paul Brown – playing both offense and defense. The Columbus native was a devastating blocker on offense and a punishing, relentless tackler on defense, despite his willowy 6-2, 215-pound. frame. Willis earned All-America honors in 1943 and 1944 (Ohio State’s first-such African American honoree), and was a key part of the Buckeyes’ 1942 national championship squad.
Willis went on to a distinguished career with the Cleveland Browns (1946-53). A member of the Pro Football (1977), College Football (1971), Ohio High School and Ohio State University Varsity Sports Hall of Fame, his No. 99 was retired by the Buckeyes on Nov. 3, 2007. He passed away Nov. 27, 2007, in Columbus.
The hardships and triumphs of the Forgotten Four are told through the recollections of their families and those who have researched these remarkable pioneers. Those interviewed for the film include Forgotten Four family members Tony Motley (Marion Motley’s grandson), Mike Brown (Paul Brown’s son), Clem and William Willis, Jr. (Bill Willis’ sons), Karin L. Cohen (Kenny Washington’s daughter) and Kalai Strode (Woody Strode’s son).