Outside of the decaying carcass of RFK Stadium, at the corner of the unit block of 22nd and East Capitol Streets SE, there is a monument. Standing nearly 10 feet tall, on the front it reads: GEORGE PRESTON MARSHALL. Founder of the Washington Redskins. Pioneer in the National Football League.
So, while a city and fanbase argues over whether or not Daniel M. Snyder’s football team should change its name, a massive 10-foot tall granite celebration of the man who named his franchise after a Native American impostor and doggedly refused to integrate his roster, just sits there. It’s one of a couple relics from the glory days of the burgundy and gold around the stadium site.
According to Rick Snider, a longtime D.C. tour guide and sports writer, they’ve tried to move it before, to no avail. “A former RFK general manager wanted to move the monument in 2001 to make way for a concession stand. He tried to give the monument to Marshall’s family. A deal was made with Marshall’s hometown for a site, but nobody wanted to pay the $30,000 shipping costs,” Snider wrote on his blog, Monumental Thoughts in April. “District politicians, well aware Marshall was forced to sign black players in return for the stadium’s use, don’t want it downtown, either. So the marker remains there indefinitely.”
It’s an odd situation. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said that she would consider blocking construction of a new stadium on the land, citing the team name as offensive. But for whatever reason, this large monument to the very person who gave the team that nickname is untouched.
“I don’t know how many people even notice that thing is there,” Erik Moses, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Sports & Entertainment of Events DC, who run the RFK Stadium site, said Tuesday. “You’re the first person to ever ask about it.”
But Moses, while not excusing Marshall’s bigotry, pointed out that Marshall’s importance to the game of football is not to be understated. “The man was good at what he did. He’s in the hall of fame, and not just because he renamed them. He was a showman, he was an innovator for the game in its early days. Before it was what it is today,” he said.
All of that is true. Halftime shows, marching bands, variations on the forward pass, are all things that Marshall helped push into the game to make it more entertaining to fans. But if he was also the architect of the very thing that the White House considers offensive, does he still deserve a statue?
More largely, we have to wonder if suddenly, the District’s role in wooing the team back to the city has been greatly reduced. If the feds plainly won’t let it happen without a name change, D.C. officials’ hands are somewhat tied in what some have called a political matter. And, there is precedent: Marshall was essentially forced to integrate the team due to the fact that they play on federal land.
There’s a memorial to the man who changed the team name at the place where the team might not be able to move back to unless they change the name again. It can be confusing. At this time in this country, we’re all reevaluating what we consider to be acceptable symbols and representations in society. Moses knows none of it is an easy task.
“If we tore down all the monuments and took the names off every building for any person who had what is now an unpopular belief, we could employ a lot of people to do a lot of those projects,” he said.
Now, that’s an idea.