Fans From Someplace Else
By Michael Wilbon
Every year, when thousands of transplants arrive in Washington, it's safe to assume that they don't come as Redskins fans. No other city in the NFL is so filled with people like me, people who grew up Someplace Else rooting passionately for their hometown teams, people who don't dispose of their roots in general like so much plastic. I grew up in Chicago, and after 17 years in Washington, the simple conversational question, "So, where are you from?" is one I still can't answer without hesitation.
I rooted for the Bears all my life, and that didn't stop when I took a flight to the nation's capital. Indeed, I suspect that there are more Cowboys fans in Washington than anyplace else outside Texas and more Giant fans than anywhere else beyond metropolitan New York. Yet, for the past 35 years no ticket has been more coveted in Washington than that to a Redskins home game. It's mystifying.
It becomes even harder to grasp when you are black and familiar with the racial baggage the Redskins carry. I tend to lose it when black Redskins fans talk about the Boston Celtics as "lily white." Washington was the last team in major league baseball, pro basketball or pro football to integrate its roster. Beginning in 1934, a decade after Paul Robeson and Fritz Pollard broke the NFL color line by playing with the Akron Pros, black players were in essence banned from the league for 12 years, until 1946. That's when Kenny Washington, who had been Jackie Robinson's roommate at UCLA, signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Redskins, who had what journalist Evan Thomas has called an "NAACP policy" Never at Anytime Any Colored Players took a lot longer, and then they acted only because the federal government in late 1961 forced George Preston Marshall to end his "whites only" policy. Since that was not so many years ago, there are plenty of blacks in Washington who have kept their vow never to root for the Redskins, and plenty more who have needed years for the scars to heal.
I didn't know about the team's racial baggage when I arrived in Washington. I simply hated the Redskins because I grew up in Chicago, as devoted a Bears fan as there is. I didn't hate the Redskins as much as I hated the Green Bay Packers, but enough.