For the past couple of years, a lot of attention has been given to the Washington Redskins and whether or not the name ‘Redskins’ is racist. Before I get into the real issue behind this situation, I want to make it clear that in no way do I feel any organization or professional sports team should be allowed to use or incorporate names or images that denigrate any race. However, in reality, we as Americans know there are always exceptions to the rule.
The Washington Redskins have been in existence for more than eighty years. In the early years of the franchise, from the 1930’s till the 1960’s, Edward Preston Marshall, the founder and owner was a stout supporter of segregation, and made it known that African-Americans would never play for his franchise. Although African-Americans were making their athletic exploits hard to overlook, Marshall continued to ignore the changing landscape of professional sports; meanwhile the likes of Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) were shattering barriers and myths about people of color and their ability to achieve excellence. However, Marshall was not the only person who had similar beliefs. Even with racial equality making strides in the 1960’s, many whites who owned businesses refused to accept the patronage of blacks. Marshall, who was being pressured by the Federal Government and the Washington Post—who also play a significant role in this current controversy— to allow blacks to play on the Redskins, ultimately relented and drafted an African American football player in the 1962 NFL draft (Ernie Davis), whom Marshall would then trade the rights to the Cleveland Browns for another African American player, Bobby Mitchell.
Since the signing of Mitchell, the Redskins have had many African-American players who have made their mark in the National Football League; from RBs Larry Brown and Brian Mitchell, to WRs Charley Taylor, Roy Jefferson, Art Monk, Gary Clark, Rickey Sanders, and defensive stars Ken Houston, Charles Mann, and Darrell Green. And most notably, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was a player for the Redskins in 1988, when Doug Williams set a then Super Bowl-record by throwing five touchdown passes en route to a 42-10 victory.
During the Redskins’ glory years of the 1980s – early 1990s, Native American activists were voicing their displeasure with the use of the name ‘Redskins’, but without much notice or attention, especially from the Washington Post. Why? Because the family that owned the Post at the time—the Graham family—had a very cozy relationship with then owner Jack Kent Cooke. The Grahams (Phillip and Katherine Graham, along with their son Donald) enjoyed watching Redskins games from Cooke’s luxury box at RFK Stadium. For the purpose of ‘journalistic integrity’, there was mention of this issue in the Post, but there was no demand by anyone associated with the publication for the Redskins to change their name.
When Cooke passed away in 1997, his son John Kent Cooke tried to retain family ownership of the Redskins, but was outbid by a young, successful marketing entrepreneur, Daniel Snyder.