Redskins owner Dan Snyder, in the wake of his widely reviled defamation suit against the Washington City Paper, has been on a DC media charm offensive to tell his side of the story. Unfortunately “Dan Snyder” and “charm” go together like “Glenn Beck” and “sanity.” He’s the sort of person who comes off as both nasty and needy at the same time. Think Dina Lohan, if Dina Lohan looked like George Costanza with hair. But in one interview, with Lavar Arrington, Mike Wise and others on 106.7 The Fan, Snyder really crossed the line from “charm offensive” to racist historical whitewash.
Part of Snyder’s suit against the City Paper is that a drawing of him was anti-Semitic. Mike Wise asked if this was a somewhat hypocritical given that he owns a billion dollar team named after a racial slur. Snyder responded,
"Obviously, you have not read some of the history of the Redskins and the name of the team and what it means," he said. "What’s most important is that what the Redskins are all about is the tradition of the Redskins, fighting for old D.C., victory. The terminology of the Redskins is not meant to be offensive, and to compare that is silly."
What lies. It’s like saying the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses because they liked praying and roasting marshmallows at the same time.
It’s especially disgusting because this year marks a golden anniversary Snyder’s team is doing their best to ignore: it’s the 50th year since the team desegregated. The beloved local team was the last NFL franchise to integrate, and only did so after a rising protest movement and the Kennedy administration forced the issue. The roadblock to integration was the man who brought the team to Washington and, not at all coincidentally, bestowed the team with the name “Redskins”: George Preston Marshall. Marshall was without question a great football innovator who invented rituals like halftime shows, the Pro Bowl, and was an early popularizer of the forward pass. He was also a stone bigot. At the time, the Redskins were the southern-most team in the NFL, and Marshall marketed his team to a white Southern audience by playing Dixie before games and saying proudly, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” This is why the team is called Redskins: it was a racist name from a racist owner.
Marshall was stubborn to keep the team white despite the fact that the Redskins were simply a terrible team, winning one game the previous season. This ratcheted up the pressure on Marshall who found himself facing a struggle with civil rights activists and the Kennedy administration over his racist policies. Marshall’s active bedfellows in keeping the Redskins white included the American Nazi Party, and the KKK who marched in front of the stadium. On the other side were organizations like the NAACP, the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE), and JFK’s Interior Secretary, Stewart L. Udall. It was a saga that would end with the signing of the Redskins’ first black players, Ron Hatcher and future hall-of-famer Bobby Mitchell, fifteen years after the rest of the league had integrated.