CANTON – Several hundred people gathered Wednesday afternoon in Stadium Park to see the new Marion Motley memorial.
After four of Motley’s grandchildren pulled back the cover, the crowd applauded and surrounded the bronze sculpture for photos. It depicts Motley, one of the first Black professional football players of the modern era, midride over protest placards with statements like “cursed is the man who integrates.”
The statue, which stands before a brick wall with the names of donors on one side and “1946” on the other, is on an island where Stadium Park Drive NW intersects with Harrison Avenue NW or McDaniels Way − honorably named in 2021 for NFL coaches Josh and Ben McDaniels and their father, former McKinley football coach Thom McDaniels.
to look backMarion Motley statue being installed in Stadium Park
“How fortunate we are to have the Marion Motley Memorial built on this gateway site,” said Doug Foltz, director of Canton Parks and Recreation. “A gateway to our beautiful Canton parks, to the Hall of Fame where Marion Motley was enshrined in 1968, and a gateway to McKinley High School, his alma mater de ella where he played football.”
Marion Motley’s legacy goes beyond NFL career
Antonio Hall, a member of the memorial committee and head football coach at McKinley High School, said Motley’s legacy goes beyond his successful football career. Hall was moved to action two years ago when his students of him, 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,” he said.
Motley’s family moved to Canton from Leesburg, Georgia, when he was only a few years old. He graduated from McKinley High School and started playing as a fullback and linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 1946.
To look back:Marion Motley statue eyed for Canton
Motley and Kenny Washington, Woody Strode and Bill Willis re-integrated the National Football League that year. The next year, Jackie Robinson did the same for professional baseball.
“Now we finally have the opportunity to recognize the forgotten four, and especially one of our own, Marion Motley,” Canton City Council President William Sherer II said. “The sacrifices and efforts that those men made to play a physically brutal game in the face of social racism trailblazed a path for Black athletes in the highest echelons in professional sports today.”
Other speakers included Major Thomas Bernabei; Jim Porter, president at the Hall of Fame; JR Rinaldi, president of both the Canton Park Commission and Canton City Schools BOE; Joe Horrigan, senior adviser at the Hall; and each member of the memorial fund committee. Remarks during the dedication ceremony noted the long overdue honor, Motley’s service in the US Navy, and his presence in the Canton community until his death from prostate cancer in 1999.
Although the city renamed a northeast street for Motley in 2002 near the former site of the Negro Oldtimers Activity Center, a group of community members felt more was needed to memorialize him and worked together to make it happen.
‘Our family is so appreciative of him being honored in this way’
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 Josh McDaniels in particular, who donated $90,000 toward the effort.
Local 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.
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“Our family is so appreciative of him being honored in this way,” Joe Dose, Motley’s grandson, said at the dedication.
Ronald Motley Sr., the son of the football great, said the ceremony was an “awakening” for him about who he had as a father. He also said it was worth noting that his father joined the Browns as a 26-year-old rookie.
Several of Motley’s relatives, including his nephew Ronald Walker, attended the ceremony.
“I think it was nice,” Walker said afterward. “The presentation was wonderful.”
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or email@example.com On Twitter: @kbyerREP