Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins
By Thomas G. Smith
Beacon Press | 277 pp | $20.48
Reading “Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins” allows the American Indian reader a fast clue as to why the ownership of the football team, located in the nation’s capital city, has remained clueless as to why the vast majority of American Indians oppose its name.
I know there have been surveys done that proclaim the opposite. And, I know the media have a way of finding someone’s uncle Indian Joe, who is eager to get on television to declare he thinks it is an honor when non-Indians use Indians as mascots.
I honestly don’t believe the surveys and feel sorry for uncle Indian Joe from the Does-Not-Get-It Tribe. I know a survey can be commissioned to deliver desired results for the entity commissioning the survey. The tobacco companies did it all the time when they were attempting to prove second-hand smoke does not injure the non-smoker.
I know the vast majority of American Indians I know find the term “redskins” akin to the “N” word. Even the Merriam-Webster defines the word as offensive.
I must disclose the book is not about the name of the team per se. The author devotes less than a full page to the fact American Indians took the use of the name to court in the early 1990s.
“Showdown” discusses how the National Football League was behind Major League Baseball in integration of African Americans into its ranks. The book is about how the Washington football team was the last team to have an African American on its roster.
The book’s central figure is the Washington football team’s owner, George Preston Marshall, who was a brazen racist.
“Blinded by racism,” author Thomas G. Smith writes,
“Marshall refused to tap into the pool of African-American talent,” despite the franchise’s shortcomings on the field. ”
Smith suggests that to keep in good favor with his mainly white, Southern fan base and not hurt his profit margin, Marshall refused to draft black players from 1946 through 1961, making his team the only team in the professional league to have an all white team. During this time, the team had a dismal record of 69 wins, 116 losses and 8 ties and went through eight coaches.
However, Marshall’s racist hiring policy would be challenged by President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall.
In 1961, the same year the Kennedy administration came into power, Marshall purchased a 30 year lease for a newly built 54,000 seat stadium, writes Smith. The landlord was the federal government. When President Kennedy issued an executive order creating the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, Secretary Udall, after consulting Interior Department attorneys and decided to move against the Washington “Paleskins”, as he referred to the NFL franchise.
Citing a no-discrimination provision in the stadium lease, Udall gave Marshall an ultimatum, integrate the team or lose the stadium.
“Showdown” does a good job of describing how the team relented and became integrated. However, Marshall – even after his death in 1969 – stipulated in his will that the Redskins Foundation with funds from his estate was not to direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”
Unfortunately, the team, through a couple of different owners since Marshall, remains clueless as to the