News & Politics

Redskins Urged to Drop Memorials to Racist Former Owner

After Charlottesville, opponents of the Washington NFL team's name hope they can find common ground with Dan Snyder.

A monument to former Washington NFL owner George Preston Marshall that sat outside RFK stadium until earlier today. Photograph via iStock.

With cities across the United States moving to remove public monuments to Confederate figures in light of the white-supremacist rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians are prodding Washington’s NFL franchise to pull down memorials to another famous racist: the team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall.

The Oneidas, based in upstate New York, have waged a public campaign since 2013 against the Washington team’s name, which is widely considered to be a racial slur against Native Americans. But after last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, the tribe is hoping it can find common ground with the team and owner Dan Snyder in removing tributes to Marshall from FedEx Field, where the lower level of seats is named for the man, and from Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, outside of which stands a marble-and-bronze monument to Marshall.

“Specifically, we are asking you to join with other teams and end the practice of venerating segregationists who helped promote the Confederacy and its abominable legacy of slavery,” the letter reads. “We invite you and the Washington football team to officially join our effort to remove the statue and separate stadium memorial to George Preston Marshall—the founder of your franchise.”

Marshall’s racism was very public and well-documented from the moment he founded the team as the Boston Braves in 1932. The team’s name was changed after its first season to its current, more aggressively insulting moniker. Upon moving the franchise to DC in 1937, the team sprinkled its fan experience with paeans to the South like the “fight for old Dixie” lyric in its official song.

Most notoriously, Marshall brazenly refused to sign any black players until 1962—26 years after the rest of the NFL—after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to boot the team from federally owned DC Stadium (now RFK Stadium) unless it diversified its roster. Last weekend, members of the American Nazi Party marched outside the stadium holding signs that read “Keep Redskins White!” at the same time neo-Nazis and members of other white-supremacist groups flocked to Charlottesville last weekend nominally to protest the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

While the letter to Snyder acknowledges their disagreement over the team’s name, the tribe is asking the Washington team’s present-day owner to follow the example of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in taking down a tribute to an overtly racist predecessor just outside Fenway Park. Henry said Thursday he plans to ask Boston officials to rename Yawkey Way, which is named after Tom Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933 to 1977 and—like Marshall—made his team the last holdout against racial integration. (The Sox signed utility infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier.)

“As the owner of the Washington team, you are in a unique position to make a similar—and desperately needed—gesture in your own community,” the letter reads. “You can play a pivotal role by removing the Marshall memorial in front of your team’s previous stadium, and remove Marshall’s name from the stadium section at your team’s current stadium.”

Tony Wyllie, a spokesman for the Washington NFL team, says there are no statues or monuments to Marshall at FedEx Field. (The only tribute there is the lower bowl’s ceremonial naming.) Either way, taking down the multiple tributes to Marshall will be a bit trickier than the task Henry faces in Boston. While it’s Snyder’s prerogative to make alterations at FedEx, taking down the Marshall monument at RFK Stadium would require the approval of Events DC, the District’s sports and convention bureau, and the National Park Service, which owns the land under the site. DC Council member David Grosso, who is also pushing NPS to remove a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike from downtown Washington, is a cosigner of the Oneidas’ letter.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.