Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Roger Goodell Needs a History Lesson (and a Few Other Things)

Roger Goodell, in response to a letter issued by ten members of congress directed to the Washington Redskins organization urging the franchise to change the offensive name Redskins, issued his own letter wherein he asserted that the nickname Redskins is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect," and, moreover, that it was never "meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group." 

In short, the commissioner just showed his ass. 

Whether or not the name was intended to offend or not, it is simply offensive. Some, congress included, have suggested that the term Redskin is akin to dropping the N-bomb. At the very least, I think most of us can agree that, at best, it is the equivalent of calling an Italian a dago or calling a Jew a kike or Chinese person a Chink. And I don't think that anybody can imagine, in the year 2013, that America would tolerate a team nicknamed, The Washington Dagos. Or the Washington Kikes. Or the Washington Chinks. It's the team in the nation's friggin' capitol, for crying out loud. In the present day and age. If Redskins owner Dan Snyder wants to call people all manner of noxious, racially charged names in the privacy of his home, or while raging in traffic, or while shrouded in secrecy as he posts hateful comments on message boards, he is free to do just that. But if he wants to continue to use a repugnant name for his professional football team, well, it may be legal, but he does show himself to be a scumbag of the highest order.

But back to my good buddy, Commissioner Goodell. In his letter to Congress, he himself sees fit to take a look through history at the origins of the name, Redskins:  "In our view, a fair and thorough discussion of the issue must begin with an understanding of the roots of the Washington franchise and the Redskins name in particular." (Entire letter here.)

Let's, do that Roger. Let's take a look at the history of the Washington franchise and, in particular, the man who named them 'The Redskins.' Just for giggles. 

(photo:  Washington Post)
In 1932, George Preston Marshall (left, in the fur coat) and his Boston Braves franchise entered the NFL. At that time, Marshall had partners, but by the following year, 1933, the team was Marshall's solely. He then re-named the team 'the Boston Redskins' to 'honor' his then coach, Lone Star Dietz, a native american. 

Is it just me, or was this honor something that a particularly arrogant, entitled insensitive a-hole would do? 

But Marshall wasn't done then. Nosirree. 1933 was a banner year for Marshall because he successfully browbeat other NFL owners into segregating the league during the owner's meetings. Prior to that season, there were a handful of black players sprinkled on rosters throughout the NFL (notably Paul Robeson and Fritz Pollard), but after those owners meetings, the sign on the NFL door said:  No Blacks Allowed. Teams didn't hire black talent and basically pink-slipped the black players who pre-existed this most ungentlemanly of gentlemen's agreements.

I should note that there's no transcript we can point to of what went down at those meetings, but in a time in American history when a certain level of racism was common among even fairly decent, fair minded white folks, George Preston Marshall stands out as an especially vile bigot and bully. It was just a known fact and I'm thinking that if it walks like a racist and brays like a racist, well, you know, it is a racist.

Shamefully, from 1933 to 1946, the NFL was an entirely white endeavor. After World War II, America was a changed place and owners started signing black talent in 1946. By 1949, teams started to draft black players, too. 

Oh, not Marshall's Redskins. Silly. 

(1961 Washington Redskins)

George Preston Marshall's Redskins (pictured above) remained lilly-white until 1962. Here is the great Shirley Povich who covered the Redskins for decades for the Washington Post, on the team finally re-integrating:
"He caved in, finally, when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall issued an ultimatum: Sign a black player or be denied use of the new 54,000-seat D.C. Stadium (later renamed RFK) that the government had paid for, and to hell with the 30-year lease Marshall had signed. Marshall's chief response was to make Ernie Davis, Syracuse's all-American running back, his No.1 draft choice for 1962. Ernie Davis's response was: "I won't play for that S.O.B." He demanded to be traded and was, to Cleveland, for all-pro Bobby Mitchell."
Marshall's racism ran so deep, in fact, that in his will, there is a provision which forbids funds that he had provided for child welfare programs from going to anyone with 'integrationist notions.' Knowing all of that history, knowing Marshall's entrenched, consuming racism, colors everything I think about the name "Redskins" and the man who thought it was a good idea. Marshall never meant to honor anybody. At best, it didn't occur to him that it was belittling or noxious. But even if he thought it was the cruelest thing he could have said, he probably would have done it anyway.

It's time for the league to grow up. And it's time for Goodell to grow up, too and take a step outside his normal role as the mouth-piece for a bunch of rich guys who are used to getting their way.

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