The Native American women advocacy group, Rising Hearts, gave Dan Snyder a brilliant gift this holiday season. They provided a glimpse of what a name and logo free of racism would look like. The Redhawks name and logo is imaginative and captivating. The only question is whether Dan Snyder is smart enough to accept this gift and change the name of the team! We share two videos of a rally organized by Rising Hearts before the R-skins football game against the Cardinals on December 17, 2017. Go Redhawks! And here is what the Redhawks web page would look like.
In Showdown, JFK and the Integration of the Washington R-skins, Thomas G. Smith makes it clear that George Preston Marshall (GPM), the first owner of the team was an unrepentant bigot whose name for the team had nothing to do with honoring Native Americans but everything to do with pandering to the prejudices of a white fan base.
In the early years, when GPM’s team played in Boston, the first coach was Lone Star Dietz, a shady character that may or may not have been Native American. Smith states, “Marshall promptly played on Dietz’s Indian ancestry to entertain fans. Not only did he hire a Native American coach and recruit four Indian players…, he required Dietz and the players to wear Indian feathers and war paint before home games.”
One of GPM’s former players, Cliff Battles states, “In the thirties, we would, at the urging of George, put on war paint before a game and do a little Indian dance to entertain the customers. None of us liked it very much. The showmanship was so overdone, it was embarrassing.”
Marshall was just beginning his embarrassing and craven career of racism and exploitation. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a few African-American standouts played in the NFL, including Fritz Pollard, a running back and quarterback. In 1933, however, the NFL owners during their annual meeting agreed to an informal ban of African-American players that lasted until 1946. Of course, GPM was one of the ring leaders.
After the World War II, societal pressure to integrate was too much to resist in the NFL except for GPM. African-Americans fought for and died defending democracy abroad. Integration and democracy in the United States, at least in some areas of life, became hard to resist. As the NFL integrated, GPM resisted. His team suffered because of his segregation. When GPM refused to consider a wide swath of the talent pool during NFL drafts, he confined his team to mediocrity. During a 15 year stretch from 1946 through 1951, GPM’s team had just three winning seasons, no title or championship games and went through eight coaches (sounds like the contemporary team).
Marshall would never admit to overt racism against African-Americans. Instead, he hid behind paternalism. He claimed that if African-Americans played in NFL, bigoted whites, particularly from the south, would hurt them. What Marshall was really afraid of, however, was hurting his bottom line. He catered to Southern markets, purchasing TV and radio stations, to showcase his lily white team. Southern prejudice would be offended by hiring African-American players according to Marshall’s business practices.
As much as Marshall would protest to not being overtly racist, his actions would prove otherwise. His racism was often not confined to one minority group. In the 1950s, he appeared on the Oscar Levant Show, and repeatedly called the Jewish host ugly. During the halftime of football games, he would frequently use Black-face comedians and have his choral group sing “darky” songs. One fan pointed out that he would have white vendors engage in the most profitable activity of selling game programs. And finally, he wanted to move away from Griffith stadium because it was in an African-American section of the city.
GPM hit a little snag though when he wanted move from Griffith and lease DC stadium, now the recently retired RFK stadium. The federal government owned the land beneath the stadium. Stewart Udall, the Interior Secretary, in the Kennedy Administration threatened to cancel GPM’s lease if he did not integrate his team. During 1961 when this showdown occurred, 51 African-Americans played professional football but not one with the R-skins. According to Udall, “Marshall is one of the few remaining Jim Crow symbols in American sports, and we believe such action (the integration order) would have a wide impact in the civil rights field.” GPM dug in his heels for several months. His team continued to suffer from his segregationist policy; it finished 1961 with a 1-12-1 1961 record.
Finally, he faced the inevitable and did not want to lose his lease. He relented and signed the African-American running back turned wide receiver Bobby Mitchell in 1962, who went onto to have a Hall of Fame career. GPM, however, was not a convert to integration. When he wrote his will, he established the R-skins Foundation and stipulated the Foundation “shall never use, contribute or apply its money or property for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” The foundation was to help disadvantaged children and a court voided the anti-integration clause after GPM’s death.
So there it is. The fellow who coined the team’s name was not honoring any race or creed in general or Native Americans in particular. He was a vicious racist who used stereotypes to pander to a white, Southern base during the Jim Crow era. Why on earth would we still want to use a name and mascot associated with such a man?
When members of Rebrand Washington Football urge people to sign petitions asking Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington professional football team, to change the name, we encounter the skeptics who ask whether we have better things to do and why would Native Americans be so concerned about a name of a football team when there are so many other pressing issues in their communities.
The answer is that it is “More than a Word,” which is the name of a recently released documentary by John and Kenn Little, two Native American artists and brothers. Viewing this documentary, you become aware quickly that a word is a system of domination as James Baldwin says in the film. He was talking about the N-word and states when one takes away the N-word, the system falls apart. There is no domination left. This is the case with the word “Redskin.” I normally don’t say or write the word but will do so in this review to show its jarring force.
The film features informative and moving interviews of Native American activists who make it clear what the word represents. Suzan Harjo, the lead plaintiff in the first Supreme Court case against the use of the name “Redskin” by the professional football team, states that “Actions are preceded by thought. You don’t attach rights to people that are less than humans.” Tara Houska, another prominent activist, suggests, “As headdress characters, we are not in the modern dialogue.” Indeed without respect, there is no justice. The rights of a minority can never be fully realized when the majority in society hold stereotypical views of them.
Doesn’t the name “Redskin” symbolize bravery or honor as Dan Snyder asserts? While filming the movie, the Littles also made a shirt that has an advertisement from the Winona Daily Republican newspaper from 1863. This ad states, “The State Reward for Dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every REDSKIN sent to purgatory.” Instead of honor, the name “Redskin” is associated with genocide.
Moreover, as the film makes clear, there is power in an image. Whenever someone in the movie says the name honors Native Americans, the film cuts to singing and dancing, either at sporting contests or old movies that display despicable stereotypes of Native Americans. I am quoted in the movie as making a parallel to Jewish history and the series of names and symbols used to denigrate Jews. The words and images affect how the majority thinks. They seep into the subconscious of children and inform the views of emerging generations. Can a country respect a people that have been stereotyped and then construct equitable policy to right past wrongs? And how do we fix this? Start with getting rid of dictionary defined racial slurs and stereotypical mascots at sporting events. Then millions of fewer people will not develop stereotypical views.
Some of the most gripping moments occur when Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the second Supreme Court case against the name, describe her sacrifices and the threats she endured against her safety. Not a system of domination? Just a name? Tell that to Amanda Blackhorse.
The movie ends with an artists’ conference where Native American artists describe how they affirm their heritage and beat back stereotypes through art. They are using art and words to reclaim their history and their worth as a people. As a woman viewing the movie at the screening I was at in DC’s Takoma neighborhood stated, even some Native Americans became fans of teams with stereotypical images as they are clinging to any vestige of Native American worth in majority culture. Well, the Littles and the artists at the conference seek to change that and empower Native Americans through their own authentic art.
This is a powerful movie. You need to see it. The skeptics need to see it; some of them may change their minds. Consult the More Than A word webpage for screenings near you.
Ask Events DC to Remove the Marshall Monument
Friends and allies: a monument right outside the iconic RFK stadium where the pro football team used to play continues to celebrate Washington football team founder George Preston Marshall (GPM), an avowed segregationist. GPM battled for his club to remain the last ‘all white’ organization in major US sports. This monument remains a tribute to Jim Crow and racial segregation. The word R*dskin is a dictionary defined racial slur and it appears on this monument in three places.
We invite you to join us in asking Events DC, the convention and sports authority that manages RFK stadium, to remove this outdated structure. You can assist by calling Events DC at 202 608-1100. You can also email Gregory O’Dell, President and CEO of Events DC at GODell@EventsDC.com. Let’s remind our leaders that racism has no place in DC sports!
Marshall challenged the NAACP, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson, while defending his ‘white only’ hiring policy. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, threatened to void the team’s lease for the brand new DC Stadium, unless GPM rescinded his segregationist employment policies. The Federal government essentially forced GPM to integrate the Washington football team in 1962, but the harmful effects still linger. The GPM monument was erected within eight years of the defeat of GPM’s segregationist policy. Marshall’s campaign would become known as the final battle to uphold racial segregation in the United States’ major, professional sports leagues. The GPM monument is a relic of racism and must be removed at once!
The Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Washington football team have officially declined recent Events DC offers to accept the monument. Political leaders in the towns where Marshall was born and buried have also said ‘no thanks’. Shopping this monument to a willing taker is not an appropriate course of action. Relocation costs should not be the burden of DC tax payers. An offer to privately fund the on-site demolition of the monument was declined by EventsDC in 2017. At this time we know no other course of action aside from public pressure. We ask you to join us.
REBRAND WASHINGTON FOOTBALL
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 19, 2017
Contact: Joshua Silver
Tel: (240) 605-3084
STATEMENT REGARDING TODAY’S SUPREME COURT RULING IN TRADEMARK CASE
"Despite the legal merits of the case, Rebrand Washington Football (RWF), a grassroots group of fans opposed to the name of the Washington professional football team, is profoundly disappointed by how today's developments will be manipulated by a professional football team. At issue is an Asian band's desire to appropriate and own a slur for Asians. It is their right to do so. In contrast, Daniel Snyder continues to appropriate a racial slur against Native Americans for the name of his football team. Mr. Snyder and the football team will use today's Supreme Court decision to advance their cause. Every Native American we know believes the name is offensive and hateful. We call on Mr. Snyder to meet with us and our Native American allies to commence the process of changing the name. Just because Mr. Snyder may have a legal right to use the name does not mean he has a moral right to use the name. We believe that the community will be united if Mr. Snyder does the right thing and changes the name."
By Bill Mosley
One of Washington’s least-known monuments sits just outside Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The 10-foot tall red granite slab, on a walkway leading to the stadium – once DC’s mecca for football and baseball, now about to be abandoned by its last occupant, the DC United soccer team – bears the image of George Preston Marshall.
For those who are not historians of Washington professional sports, Marshall was once the owner of Washington’s professional football team, the one that now plays at FedEx Field in Landover and bears the nickname that many Native Americans regard as a racial slur against themselves. Indeed, it was Marshall who chose the moniker while the team played in Boston and retained it when he brought the squad to the District in 1937.
One could excuse Marshall for selecting a racially insensitive nickname in a less-enlightened age, when no one blinked at team names, logos and mascots that stereotyped and demeaned Native Americans. Even today, the Atlanta Braves’ fans cling to the tomahawk chop and the Cleveland Indians to grinning Chief Wahoo, so one could conclude that giving a team a name in the 1930s that is considered offensive to Natives today does not necessarily peg Marshall as a racist.
However, there is more to Marshall’s racial resume than a team name. The NFL integrated in 1946, one year before major league baseball, but even after every other team in the league employed African American players, Marshall’s team remained lily-white until 1962 – and he buckled only under pressure from the Kennedy administration, which threatened to revoke the team’s lease on its federally owned stadium (then called DC Stadium) unless it changed its policy of racial exclusion.
More than a half-century later, a full-throated campaign is underway to pressure the team to change its racist moniker. Since 2015, the grassroots organization Rebrand Washington Football (RWF) has been circulating petitions to demand a name change; by the end of this May the group had collected over 4,000 signatures and made two trips to team headquarters in Ashburn, Va., to deliver them to team officials. A petition-delivery trip last December included several Native American activists. However, Daniel Snyder, the current team owner, has declined to even discuss a name change. “We’ll never change the name,” he said in an interview. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
RWF, while continuing the petition campaign, has now also turned its attention to the Marshall monument. With DC United pulling out of RFK next year and moving to its new home at Buzzard Point, the old stadium is slated for demolition. The DC government has announced plans for the site that include multipurpose athletic fields, a food market and an indoor sports complex, along with a memorial to Robert F. Kennedy. The plan doesn’t preclude also building a new football stadium there, and Snyder is eyeing the site for a replacement for his own aging FedEx Field. But one thing is for certain: When RFK goes, a decision will have to be made about the fate of the Marshall monument. But what?
In a time when monuments across the country to a shameful racist past are being retired to the dustbin of history – the Confederate flags, the statues of Rebel leaders (such as took place in New Orleans last month) – RWF argues that the only appropriate fate of the Marshall monument is to be removed from our community. EventsDC, the DC agency that controls RFK Stadium and the monument, has suggested the monument might be relocated, with DC taxpayers possibly picking up the tab. It would cost an estimated $30,000 to relocate the monument to Marshall’s hometown of Grafton, W.Va., one of the possible sites, but the town told representatives of RWF that it doesn’t want it.
Several other potential recipients of the monument, including the Washington football team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, declined to accept it. But if EventsDC should find someone who wants the monument but not pay for the shipping, DC taxpayers might be ponying up to preserve a monument to a racist past. Given the District’s need for more money for education, affordable housing, health care and other urgent priorities, do we really want to spend $30,000 to preserve a monument to a segregationist? If DC really has that sum to spare, it could provide permanent supportive housing to a chronically homeless person for more than a year, or provide iPads for 80 DC public school students.
"RFK Stadium bookends the story of integration in major US sports,” said Ian Washburn, a founder of RWF. “Marshall hindered such efforts for 15 years after the debut of Jackie Robinson. We know this site could host a better future without Marshall's presence. We look forward to Events DC making the correct decision to remove the monument."
Therefore, on Saturday, June 3, RWF and the Rising Hearts Coalition, a Native advocacy organization, will hold a rally at the monument to demand its removal and, preferably, its demolition. It certainly should not be relocated at public expense, RWF argues. The rally will begin outside RFK Stadium (at the corner of the unit block of 22nd and East Capitol Streets SE) at 5:00 p.m. and run until 7:00 p.m., the timing arranged to take advantage of foot traffic into a DC United game being held that evening. Everyone who supports racial justice is invited to join the rally.
In an age when the issue of racial justice has come to the forefront of national consciousness, the need to oppose racism in all its manifestations is more critical than ever. For the residents of DC, the Marshall monument is an affront that sits literally in our backyard. Its removal would be a visible rejection of a racist past and an endorsement of a more just and inclusive future.
Below, we are posting a letter that RWF member Bill Mosley wrote to the new Interior Secretary. More letters from fans would be helpful:
March 3, 2017
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
1849 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke:
We, members of Rebrand Washington Football (RWF), urge you to not to extend the lease on the site of RFK Stadium for a new home for the Washington football team as long as that team’s nickname is a racial slur.
RWF was founded in 2015 by local football fans to advocate that the team adopt a new nickname, because the current one disparages Native Americans. Since then, RWF has generated support for a name change among local governments and the Washington-area religious community. The group also has worked with Native American activists who are advocating a change in the team name. RWF has circulated petitions demanding a name change, collecting over 3,400 signatures which were delivered to the team’s headquarters in two separate visits.
As you are aware, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, in her stewardship of the federal land on which RFK sits, stated that while she remained Secretary, the National Park Service would not grant the District of Columbia a new lease for a stadium on the RFK site unless the team changed its offensive nickname. RWF applauds this stance and hopes it will continue under your leadership.
The Washington football team’s name robs Native Americans of their identity. It is a dictionary-defined racial slur that refers to scalping. In our advocacy, we have met Native American parents who struggle with anger and disgust when they try to explain to their children why a team uses stereotypical Native American logos and names. Indeed, the American Psychological Association released findings in 2005 calling for the permanent discontinuance of Native American mascots based on a large body of scientific research concluding that these mascots are harmful.
For these reasons, we support the Interior Department’s past support for a name change, and we urge that this policy be continued under your leadership. A public statement from you that the Interior Department will continue to prohibit the use of its lands for activities that promote racist stereotypes would send a strong message in favor of tolerance and justice.
We look forward to your reply. We can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso introduced a bill to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize a stadium for the Washington professional football team. The bill would create a compact among DC, MD, and VA that each jurisdiction would not use taxpayer dollars to subsidize a stadium. Delegate David Moon of Maryland is also involved in the effort. While this is clearly a long shot, it is an important bill to support. The team must not receive any public taxpayer support while it has a racist name. See our letter here. We encourage you to write your own letter to DC Councilmembers and Del. Moon in support of this bill.
Ironically, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the comedian Bill Maher decided that it was not appropriate to oppose the name of the Washington professional football team, which is a dictionary defined racial slur associated with genocide. He likened the opponents of the name to politically correct people who have infested the Democratic Party and cost Hilary Clinton victory. It is implausible that white backlash against opposition to the name of the team mobilized voters for Trump. The controversy over the name is the most intense in the Washington DC area. The District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland went resoundingly for Hilary Clinton. Second, Trump won largely because of underemployed white working class voters who have not seen wage increases in decades. In particular, three states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and 80,000 votes in those states cost Clinton the victory. It would be absurd that a controversy over the name of a team playing in the DC area had as much to do with outcome in those three states as loss of manufacturing jobs. And lastly, the poll Maher cites is flawed and done by a newspaper whose business is helped immensely by the owner of the pro football team. Re-think your commentary on this one, Mr. Maher. Here is the episode.
An Asian band wants to own the slur and call themselves the "Slants." The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had declared that the band could not use that name because it is disparaging. The Washington football team had filed an amicus brief in the case. Interestingly, the lead band member is no fan of Dan Snyder and does not want the case associated with the pro football team. The cases are not similar. In one instance, a band wants to empower itself and own the slur. In another case, an owner of a football team who is not Native American wants to use a name that is a racial slur and that all the Native Americans I know find to be deeply offensive. In one case, the issue is empowerment. In the other case, the issue is cultural appropriation by a majority culture. It would be nice if the law allowed the Asian band to call itself whatever it wants but not allow a trademark for a team that is not Native American and is using a slur for Native Americans. I am not sure the law works that way, but will we see as the Supreme Court takes up the case this term. For more see, this article.
Josh Silver is one of the founders of RWF and is a life time fan that wants the name changed!