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May 27, 2014

Redskinsí Name Change

Roy Meachum

On the line, my Broadcast House secretary didn’t announce Chester, a factotum for George Preston Marshall, then-owner of the Washington Redskins. It was Mr. Marshall himself: I was available for lunch Saturday. But he didn’t announce why this particular weekend and his other guests. It was 1958.


Redskins’ chauffer picked me up at the house in the District’s Chevy Chase and took me to the familiar office, where I had dined gloriously in the past. To my surprise, football coach Paul Bryant sat down to the table. That meant three of us. Mr. Marshall seemed to make a foil out of me. I didn’t realize  – but quickly learned – that the owner used me as an intercept; that was done cleverly. After the lunch, which we never discussed, I was taken home. That late summer the University of Alabama announced “Bear” Bryant had signed on as the football coach.


Mr. Marshall shared some of the Redskins’ history with me. The football team was once known as the Boston Braves. They moved over to the Red Sox Stadium. Seeking the shelter of the more popular baseball, the owner who was born in West Virginia explained; now that’s come full circular. I wonder if the 50 U.S. senators who signed a petition to the current Redskins owner to change the name know this.


They are all Democrats; no Republican was offered a chance to sign. This was, in my view, the ultimate in political interference. Again I agree with stage comedian Will Rogers: “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”


Most owners were GOP members, but on the other hand, from his show biz background, Mr. Marshall came up with the first band, the first cheerleaders and second song: “Hail to the Redskins!” was written by Barnee Breeskin and actress Corinne Griffith, who was drafted by her husband, the owner. (The first song composed was in honor of the Green Bay Packers.)


In his last years, George P. Marshall was considered a racist; he plowed the old Confederacy as a monopoly, not until Dallas was granted a franchise. He explained to me: “It was good business.” The writer from Maine, Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich, carried on a life-long feud.


The Redskins’ owner knew Leon Bakst, the artist and scenic designer for Ballets Russes; I don’t think Mr. Povich was acquainted with him. That endeared Mr. Marshall to me.


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