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In order to understand just how disgusting it is that the NFL team in Washington, D.C., is still called the "Redskins," you need to know the franchise's history.
|William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz played college football at Carlisle Indian Industrial School and later coached multiple college team and the Boston NFL franchise. George Preston Marshall renamed the team in his "honor."|
You need to understand that George Preston Marshall, the man who bought the rights to an NFL franchise with three partners and started the Boston Braves in 1932, was an avowed segregationist. You have to understand the franchise was renamed in "honor" of a man raised by white parents who adopted a Native American persona (scholars say he was impersonating a Sioux man). And when the team relocated to D.C. five years after it was founded, the city was controlled by Southern white politicians, and its most powerful resident, Franklin D. Roosevelt, invited only the white Olympians who competed in 1936 to visit him at the White House.
"Hitler didn't snub me -- it was [FDR] who snubbed me," said Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. "The president didn't even send me a telegram."
So before anyone dismisses the outcry to rename the football team as another example of political correctness gone wild, they must remember the first NFL team to reintegrate was the L.A. Rams in 1946 and the last was Marshall's "Redskins" in 1962.
But to fully appreciate just how revolting it is that the team still bears that name, you must know that Marshall didn't finally sign a black player because he was no longer a racist.
The NFL had signed a big TV deal the year before, and then-commissioner Pete Rozelle was encouraged by the other owners to talk to Marshall; no doubt they were afraid his bigotry would tarnish the image of the league. The federal government was also involved, as the team's new football stadium was built on federally controlled land. So the Kennedy administration required Marshall to abide by federal law.
This is the history of the franchise that has clung to the name "Washington Redskins."
So when commissioner Roger Goodell said, "I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they are proud of that name and that heritage," I hope he remembers this: Marshall, along with the nation's attitude at the time the name was chosen, is that heritage.
Maybe if there were more Native Americans playing in the league or if Native Americans were part of an organization as powerful as the NAACP -- which protested Marshall's racism multiple times -- things would be different. But at this point, why do Snyder and Goodell need picket signs and boycotts to do the right thing?
It may not be illegal to use a dehumanizing slur like "Redskins," which is why attempts to force a name change through the legal system have always fallen short.
But it is immoral to continue to brand a team with this racially insensitive relic.
It is immoral for the shield of the NFL to protect a mascot created by a racist and born at a time when this country removed a pair of Jewish sprinters from the Olympic team out of "respect" for the Games' host, Nazi Germany.
It is immoral to backpedal from doing "the right thing" because constituents may not like it, as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has recently done. Last month he said he "would love to be able to sit down with the team and see if a change should be made," and that "there's a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing."
This month he offered this to the Washington Post: "The point I was trying to make at the time was it's sitting on federal land You know that issue will come up if that's the proposal, to build the stadium there. That was the point I was making."
In other words, he got some backlash, so instead of engaging in the fight he's passing the buck to the White House.
If team does return to D.C. from its current stadium in Maryland -- and the franchise again finds itself returning to federally controlled land -- then the Obama administration could flex its muscles the way the Kennedy administration did back in 1961.
But again I ask, why does anyone have to force Snyder -- or Goodell -- to do anything? Why can't they simply look at the true history of the name and do the right thing? Fans won't stop watching the brilliant play of RG III any more than fans of the New Orleans Hornets will turn their backs on Anthony Davis when he's a Pelican.
Recently, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium entitled Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports, and as you can imagine, the use of "Redskins" was a major point of contention.
"Honors like that we don't need," said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians.
And when you look at the true, repulsive history of the name "Redskins," the word "honors" should be the last thing that comes to anyone's mind.