They have disposed of nearly all of George Preston Marshall’s legacy of bigotry in Washington, having finally dragged away the memorial statue outside RFK Stadium.
What will they do with it? His hometown, Grafton, West Virginia, doesn’t want it. Maybe they could dump it in the middle of the Potomac River from the soon-to-be-formerly-called Woodrow Wilson bridge.
The founder and former owner of the Washington Redskins who had to be strong-armed into integrating his team has also been, for the most part, wiped clean from Ghost Town Field.
The team announced the George Preston Marshall lower level of the stadium has been renamed for the late Bobby Mitchell, the Black running back who would be Marshall’s choice to lead his franchise into the 20th century, 100 years after the Civil War was fought.
The Redskins also announced they would retire Mitchell’s number 49. The Hall of Famer passed away in April.
“He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” Redskins owner Dan Snyder said in a statement released by the team.
Of course, it took Snyder more than 20 years to discover this.
I had written many times in the past that Snyder should have put a statue of Mitchell outside FedEx Field.
For one, he was worthy of such an honor and two, it would have been an effective part of a campaign that Snyder should have undertaken to begin addressing the racist history he inherited when he purchased the team in 1999.
Unfortunately, Snyder waited until his hand was forced by circumstances before the team took steps to better acknowledge Mitchell’s historic role.
Maybe Snyder could build a statue of himself outside the stadium so Redskins fans could tear it down — all the rage these days. It might draw a crowd.
All that is left now of the Marshall legacy is the name of the team — Redskins — which has been swept up in the Black Lives Matter movement and come under fire again publicly.
That part of the Marshall legacy is going to be harder to bring down.
I thought the team name would be changed once native American casino boss and leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, Ray Halbritter, became involved. I figured his money and corporate influence would give the movement the muscle it needed.
But then came the Washington Post 2016 poll that showed nine out of 10 native Americans weren’t offended by the name — the second such independent poll with similar results.
Now, though, the calls for a name change have the momentum of the moment behind them. Other moments, though, have come and gone, and the name has remained.
Changing the name would cost Snyder a portion of the dwindling core fan base he has left. They are loyal Redskins fans who would likely be driven away by a name change, and Snyder can’t afford to lose them.
The NFL is likely not about to force an owner to make such a dramatic change that will cost him — and them — money.
You can make the argument that the name has driven away the next generation of young Washington fans. Guess what? They’re not going to NFL games anyway. That’s a whole separate industry-wide issue.
Then again, the Redskins fan base may have fallen so far that the NFL may believe now is the right time to force a change. How much more damage can you do to this damaged franchise?
On Team 980 recently on “Mayor Muriel Bowser Appreciation Day,” Bowser said the Redskins name is a roadblock to the team moving back to Washington. “I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people and this is a great franchise with a great history that’s beloved in Washington and it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we’ve built for the team,” she said.
Two years ago at the Redskins Welcome Home Luncheon, Bowser was the team’s biggest cheerleader for bringing the team back to the District — name or no name. In fact, NBC4 Washington reported that Bowser had been advised to use the name to help cozy up to Snyder. That was when Bowser was under the illusion that the District had a chance for a new stadium and the return of the Redskins, when council member Jack Evans had been working behind the scenes for the deal — a very precarious, shaky deal.
Now, with the departure of Evans from the council due to an ethics scandal and the new makeup of the city council, Bowser knows plans for the return of the Redskins to the city are dead. So it was easy for her to flex her muscles. There is no longer anything to gain by being on Snyder’s good side.
Then again, she just may understand the timing of the moment. Typically, Snyder isn’t as quick to grasp such moments.
When Mitchell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he mentioned Marshall briefly in his acceptance speech. Speaking of the trade with the Cleveland Browns that brought him to Washington, Mitchell told the crowd, “Mr. Marshall said to me, ‘We are taking you out of the shadow of Jim Brown.’”
But he brought him into another shadow, one that may not be fading anytime soon.
You can hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and Wednesday afternoons on Chad Dukes Vs. The World on 106.7 The Fan.
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