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?