William Karnet “Bill” Willis was born on October 5, 1921 in Columbus Ohio. He attended The Ohio State University in 1941 and participated in track and football, his team winning the Big Ten Conference Willis’ sophomore year. Willis broke the color barrier in professional football, signing to the Cleveland Browns in 1946 – a year before Jackie Robinson broke the same barrier in professional baseball. Willis was named an All-League Player three times with the Browns, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, and was inducted as a charter member of the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame. Willis died on November 27, 2007 in Columbus, where he was honored by The Ohio State University when his #99 jersey was retired the same year. Bill Willis was made a Great Ohioan in 2010.
Photo provided by The Ohio State University Archives.