July 3, 2020 [LINK / comment]

Racism in pro sports: what to do?

Ever since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May, there has been a rising drum beat against all vestiges of racism in the world of sports. It so happens that the team in Minneapolis (the Twins) were moved there by an MLB franchise owner (Calvin Griffith) who harbored strong racist views, motivating his departure from Washington. While baseball declined in Our Nation's Capital during the 1950s and 1960s, football surged upward, thanks in large part to the efforts of George Preston Marshall, who bought the Boston Redskins and moved them to Washington in 1937.

There was a problem, however: Marshall espoused racist views as well, and refused to hire African American players, so the Redskins were the last NFL franchise to get a black player. It was for this reason that the statue of Marshall next to RFK Stadium (see below) was removed by D.C. workers earlier this month. It's sad and ironic because as the Redskins had become one of the NFL's premier franchises in the 1980s, a sense of pride and social harmony was restored in the D.C. area. But over the years the team's name began to bother more and more people, who took it as an ethnic slur. One might question why in the world a team would adopt a name with a derogatory meaning, but that's not even the point any more. It appears more and more likely that the Redskins will adopt a new name in the not-so-distant future. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians announced that they are looking seriously at changing the team's name; see mlb.com. They got rid of the grinning "Chief Wahoo" mascot after the 2018 season, and one would imagine the same is in store for the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs. Unlike other teams, the Indians had a valid reason for adopting that name: one of Cleveland's star players in the late 1890s, Louis Sockalexis, was a Native American.

And so, I would like to remind folks about the origins of the Redskins' name. The franchise was born in Boston in 1932, and since they played in Braves Field, home of the Boston Braves, they used their host team's name as their own. One year later they moved to nearby Fenway Park, which necessitated a new name to avoid an awkward situation. What name could retain a sense of identity with their founding and yet be compatible with their new hosts, the Boston Red Sox? The answer was fairly obvious: the Redskins. When Marshall bought the franchise and moved them to Washington four years later, they chose to keep the name.

So, what should the Redskins' new name be? Either the Braves or the Red Sox would make sense, but I think "Warriors" sounds better, since the first letters match the city's name. There ought to be some kind of continuity in team identity, as pro sports franchises invariably derive success from upholding a proud legacy. (When the NBA Washington Bullets changed their name to the "Wizards" in 1997, it kind of fell flat.) Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder will have to consult with D.C. government officials, because they have made clear that they will not accept a new stadium for that football team as long as it retains the current name.

George P. Marshall statue, RFK Stadium

The statue of longtime Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, in September 2018. This image is part of a larger panorama of RFK Stadium, seen in the background.

More web page updates

I have updated the Stadium names chronology page with several corrections and clarifications. The columns for the early decades (1910s-1040s) are now narrower because there were fewer name changes, and the columns for the later decades (190s-2010s) are wider because there have been more name changes lately. Also, I have updated the Stadium lists, Baseball chronology, annual and Stadium chronology, annual pages.