Our local (American) football club has a uniquely unpleasant history. Consider this image of an elderly black fan dressed in faux-native garb. What makes it so incongruous is not simply the appropriation of someone else’s culture; it’s the fact that the Redskins are historically the most racist franchise in football against blacks too. Owner George Preston Marshall, the franchise’s patriarch, brought the team to Washington in 1937. NFL clubs began signing black players in 1946, but Marshall held out until 1962. He rationalized being the last franchise to sign black players, long after all other teams had: “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” He eventually backed down when JFK’s Secretary of the Interior threatened the lease on his stadium on grounds of discriminatory hiring practices.
This was only part of Marshall’s southern strategy. When they came into the NFL, the Redskins were the league’s closest thing to a “southern” team. (Franchises in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere would come later.) Marshall aggressively marketed them to the south, and mostly drafted players from southern colleges. His wife composed the lyrics to the team’s Dixie-lovin’ fight song “Hail to the Redskins.” Renowned sportswriter Shirley Povich once described Marshall as “one of pro football’s greatest innovators and its leading bigot.”
The Redskins obviously aren’t Marshall or Allen’s team anymore. I like seeing them win as much as the next guy. That said, the historical context still makes it a little incongruous seeing African-Americans old enough to have been raised under segregation all decked out in ‘Skins gear.