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Heil to the Redskins! Photo Recalls Racism of NFL Team's First Owner

In 1961, a group of men marched with swastikas on their arms in protest of the integration of black players onto Washington’s NFL team.
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A photograph that was reincarnated by Mother Jones magazine, snapped by Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer back in 1961, shows that Washington’s NFL team was a favorite among American Nazis.

In 1961, a group of men marched with swastikas on their arms in protest of the integration of black players onto Washington’s NFL team. Until then, the D.C. franchise was White Only.

One of the signs they held says, “Mr. Marshall, Keep Redskins White!” At the time, George Preston Marshall’s Redskins were the last all-white team in the NFL. Another sign said, “Integration is not Black And White. It’s Red.”


Nazis Redskins

More than 50 years later, the team’s current owner, Dan Snyder, is fighting to keep the racial slur as its logo.

In its article, Mother Jones recounts Marshall’s past:

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The struggle to integrate Washington's football team is recounted in Thomas G. Smith's 2012 book, Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins. As Smith tells it, the showdown began in 1961, when John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, Stewart Udall, who'd committed to ending segregation anywhere in his sphere of influence, declared his intent to break pro football's last color bar. Udall later recalled, "I considered it outrageous that the Redskins were the last team in the NFL to have a lily-white policy."

The call for integration was met with opposition, most notably from the team's owner, George Preston Marshall, a laundromat magnate turned NFL bigwig who had held firm for years.

Marshall appeared as outraged by federal interference as he was by the prospect of diversity. "Why Negroes particularly?" he asked. "Why not make us hire a player from another race? In fact, why not a woman? Of course, we have had players who played like girls, but never an actual girl player." The controversy drew out assorted bigots, including neo-Nazis (above), who protested on Marshall's behalf to "Keep [the] Redskins White."

Udall had one advantage over Marshall: The team's new home field, DC Stadium (later renamed RFK Memorial), was federal property. With Kennedy's approval, Udall gave Marshall a choice: He could let black players on his team, or take his all-white squad to someone else's gridiron.

Thus, Udall, Kennedy's interior secretary, and President Kennedy forced Marshall to integrate the team because Marshall’s stadium was federal property which the government had unfettered control of.

Mother Jones, a publication that has boycotted using the name “Redskins,” redacted the word throughout its article and linked readers to some of the key moments in sports history in which racially insensitive mascots were used. You can read their timeline here.

This story was originally published on November 12, 2013.