The Washington Redskins have clearly woken up to the fact that their founder and former owner George Preston Marshall was a racist. They are trying to wipe out all evidence of his existence.
After the city suddenly decided it was worth the cost of getting rid of the monument to Marshall in front of RFK Stadium, the team announced it was removing Marshall’s name from the first level of Ghost Town Field and instead naming it for the late Bobby Mitchell, the Black superstar Marshall traded for when he was forced by federal authorities integrate the team — the last team in the NFL to do so.
Now the Redskins are removing Marshall’s name from the Ring of Fame at the stadium and also taking it off the team’s history wall at Redskins Park.
Why stop there? Let’s dig him up and have Dan Snyder toss the bones into the Atlantic from his yacht in a Zoom-televised ceremony.
Where is George Preston Marshall buried? Romney, West Virginia. The name of the cemetery? Indian Mound Cemetery.
Yes, that’s right — Indian Mound Cemetery. Fate sure is funny sometimes.
All that remains of Marshall is the name that is now, in the moment of these times, more reviled than ever. Change that, and you can call them the Washington Wokes.
Not so fast, though. New coach Ron Rivera — the new cultural leader of the organization — told Chicago radio station 670 The Score that “it’s all about the moment and the timing” when it comes to changing the team name. He said it was a “discussion for another time.”
Or, as enlightened defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio might say, “Kiss My Ax.”
I find it hard to envision a more timely moment than now to make the change. But for the moment, the name — like whatever is left of George Preston Marshall in the ground in West Virginia — remains.
For how long, who knows? How long before he is wiped totally from existence? Until then, here are perhaps some final words about the man who founded the most beloved sports franchise in the nation’s capital.
He was a racist, we know that, and his memory is deserving of all the scorn that comes his way. But let’s remember he wasn’t the only racist NFL owner. They were all racists back in the 1930s and 1940s, keeping black players out of the league until Paul Brown forced the integration of pro football in the rival All-America Football Conference.
Marshall was the only one with a fan base where racism was effectively a marketing tool — the South. Until the Atlanta Falcons came along in 1965, the Redskins were the team of the South and sold themselves that way.
Of course, racism was also deep in Marshall’s heart and it nearly destroyed the franchise he built after moving to Washington from Boston in 1937.
In researching two books I’ve written about the team, I had a chance to interview a number of players and others who worked for Marshall.
Bernie Nordlinger, Marshall’s attorney right from the start in 1937, told me his old boss was a “dynamic man,” but agreed that some found him arrogant —even unpleasant.
“He was an intensely loyal man. Very few people who stayed around Marshall left him, because he was so darn interesting. He was volatile. He was a wild man in that sense … there were so many times I wanted to quit him because he made me angry. But there were so many other times that he made up for it.”
He was volatile, all right. Marshall fought with players and coaches. Joe Tereshinski, a tight end who played for Washington from 1947 to 1954, told a story about a season finale against the Chicago Cardinals when Pete Stout, a fullback playing linebacker in this game, struggled to cover the Cardinals receivers. Washington was down 21-0 at halftime:
“We were sitting there munching on oranges at halftime, and everyone is downcast. Marshall comes in, wearing his fur coat. He was fuming. He got on all of us. And then he got on Pete Stout. ‘And you, Pete Stout … ‘ and Marshall used a cuss word. … Pete jumped up and grabbed Marshall by the throat. ‘Mr. Marshall. I am playing out of position and doing the best that I can covering this man. We’ve got guys hurt and I was asked to play that position. … My father never talked to me that way and I won’t let you.’ He finally released Mr. Marshall, who was turning very red. … He (Marshall) jumped on a footlocker and yelled to the team, ‘Now that’s the kind of fight I want from you fellows.”
Then there was his fight with Curly Lambeau over a six pack of beer. Before the Redskins ever convinced Green Bay Packers icon Vince Lombardi to coach the Redskins, Marshall had convinced Packers legend and six-time NFL champion coach Curly Lambeau to lead the Redskins in 1952.
Lambeau, after a 4-8 season, got a winning 6-5-1 out of the team in 1953. Then during a preseason Western tour, Marshall fired Lambeau over a six-pack of beer that Lambeau allowed a player to bring to the hotel. “It got pretty nasty in that hotel between Curly and Marshall,” said Gene Pepper, a lineman who played for the Redskins in the early 1950s. “At one point Curly grabbed Marshall and put him up against the wall and said, ‘You can’t talk to me like that you son of a bitch. I don’t have to take that from you.’ I thought, ‘Here comes another coach.’ He was gone after that. George was a reformed alcoholic and hated drinking.”
George Preston Marshall was a racist. He was an alcoholic. He was a wild man. And someday, he will be forgotten. But not yet.
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.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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