You’re waking up this morning to a clichéd internet reaction regarding a two and a half minute opinion expressed by legendary broadcaster Bob Costas during halftime of last night’s NBC NFL game, a Dallas Cowboys 31-16 victory over the Washington football team.
That’s a long opening sentence and my college English professors as well as my Sprocket Ink boss are cringing. But there’s a point. Did you notice the last two words? The team that lost last night is whom Costas was addressing. Washington’s professional football franchise has a nickname, Redskins, that is a slur. It’s the same as the “N Word” or something referring to the skin color attributed by racists to blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Jews, or Middle Easterners. Because of America’s horrible history of treatment of their natives: misnaming, killing, displacing, arresting, and spying; it seems the last thing to hurt those who were here before most of us, first, is dishonor. This comes one week after President Barack Obama agreed with this opinion by saying if he were the team owner he’d consider changing the name.
Every word of Bob Costas’ commentary is correct. The likelihood that the current ownership and management of the Washington Football Team mean no offense or negativity toward the American Indian is high. Daniel Snyder bought the team from Jack Kent Cooke’s estate after his death in 1999 for $800 million dollars, money he made in the broadcasting business. Snyder is Jewish. He’s given millions of dollars to various charities across political and racial lines. He bought a team that has a rich history of winning – Super Bowl Titles in 1982, 1987, and 1991 – but also one of racism. Herein lies the problem with the name.
I personally cheer, sometimes uncomfortably, for a professional baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, that once shared the same name that the Washington club has, the Boston Braves. In 1932 a group of 4 businessmen were awarded an NFL franchise. They named it after the baseball team that they shared field with, the Boston Braves. The baseball team has been in existence since 1871, and were renamed, with disputed Native American permission, the Braves, in 1912. At first, the naming of the Boston football Braves appeared more opportunistic than offensive. The football Braves wanted name recognition, merchandise sales, and publicity. But one of the four owners was more nefarious than the others. His name was George Preston Marshall.
Marshall bought out his three partners the following season, 1933, re-named the team “Redskins” and started playing in Fenway Park, the home of the baseball Red Sox. In 1937, he moved the team to Washington D.C. to be closer to his West Virginia home. Marshall was a laundry business tycoon who dated movie star Louise Brooks during the 1920s and 1930s. She derisively referred to him as “Wet Wash”, which would have made a much better and less problematic football team nickname. What Marshall brought to professional football was micromanaging so bad that Charlie O. Finley and George Steinbrenner seem like mice. Marshall was also a gigantic, major, big-time, nasty racist.
The most famous George Preston Marshall quote is “”We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”
While Marshall did a lot of things to endear himself and the team to the D.C. area, like hiring a team band to create a song “Hail To The Redskins”, providing buses for fans to travel to games in New York and Philadelphia, and spending millions for children charities, he also stubbornly refused to integrate his team. The rest of the NFL started drafting black and Hispanic players in the 1940s. The Washington team didn’t have it’s first African-American player until 1962. That only happened because the late Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General of the United States, issued an ultimatum; integrate your team or lose the 30-year lease on the then 1-year-old D.C. Stadium paid for by the federal government. The place was later re-named Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Oh, how irony always kicks the butt of the racist. Yet, they never learn.
It’s understandable, almost excusable, that fans, players, and management of the current operations of the Washington football team don’t connect the dots of George Preston Marshall, who died in 1969, to the offensive team name. But the lack of awareness to what’s happening to the sports landscape makes them somewhat wrong and a bit dim.
The Washington Wizards, D.C. area’s professional basketball team, also a former league champion, changed their name from the Bullets to distance itself from the gross amount of gun violence associated with the region. So, the Bullets, an inanimate object became offensive and insensitive because of its projectile killing capability but naming the town’s football team after the skin color of it’s former inhabitants is not? Again, this is about intelligence and decency, not political correctness.
As noted by Bob Costas in his commentary, dozens of college football teams have changed their team names including Miami of Ohio, which is now the RedHawks instead of the Redskins. What makes the Washington professional football team more worthy of a disrespectful moniker? If the excuse is the amount of money it would take to change and market a newly named Washington franchise then we have the answer. The team is guilty of something almost as bad as racism and that’s greed. I’ve heard that Hail To The Redskins marching band song many times. It needs work. There are plenty of terrific songwriters out there who could pen something like Hail To The Warriors or Hell To The Congressmen.
The “Won’t Ever Get It Crowd” will cry political correctness (which is so 1993) or witch hunt (so 1693). With the abundance of witch shows on television right now – Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Witches of East End and the new season of American Horror Story: Coven, I challenge the Washington professional football team to rename themselves the Witches. It goes with the basketball team, the Wizards, and it thumbs the nose of the know it all liberals who write columns like this one, but, turns them decent toward those affected by the current name.
Lance Burson is a writer living outside Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. He’s the published author of two books, The Ballad of Helene Troy and Soul To Body, both available on amazon.com for kindle and in paperback from Lulu.com. His favorite witches are Gillian and Nicky Holroyd played by Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon in the 1958 movie Bell, Book, and Candle.