She only found out later in life that Marshall was one of the key figures behind keeping African American players out of the NFL in the 1930s and for most of the 1940s, that he fought equality till the end, becoming the last NFL owner to sign a black player in 1962. And that’s only because the Kennedy administration threatened Marshall with stadium eviction because it resided on federal land.
And whoever and whatever Marshall stood for and what he was, he was still her grandfather. And no one from Events DC even called to ask or tell her it was coming down.
So wrong, right?
“No, not at all — not one damn bit,” Wright said, speaking by phone from her Alexandria home on Saturday. “I was glad to see it come down. It’s past time to see it go.”
To move forward and alter family history, sometimes you have to crumble it altogether. To break a lineage of racism, sometimes blood does not have to be any thicker or defining than your own conviction.
The same goes for team owner Daniel Snyder, who, like Jordan, grew up going to games at RFK Stadium and singing the fight song in the stands as children, who still acts as if his entire childhood would be tainted if he admitted in 2020 it is wrong to preserve a team name that slurs a living race of people.
If nothing else has happened with this franchise and league in the past month, they can’t duck and run on this issue ever again.
It’s not that hard to change. Ask Wright. She “came out” about the name in a 2014 Post article. Since then, she’s been savaged by the warped fans, but she doesn’t care. Long before George Floyd, Wright understood that just because something was personally nostalgic to one person doesn’t mean it can’t emotionally and psychologically harm others.
In a 2013 open letter to fans explaining why he would not change the name, Snyder, under a wave of renewed pressure, wrote, “we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage.”
Heritage? Marshall’s granddaughter realized that the franchise’s almost 90-year “heritage” is not only a blip next to more than 500 years since colonization; it’s marred by racism. Marshall marketed his team as “the South’s Team,” enriching himself by selling the radio and later television rights of his franchise to southern stations at a time when the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons didn’t exist, let alone the expansion Carolina Panthers. He also conspired with former Bears owner George Halas to keep black players from the NFL at the infamous 1933 NFL owners meetings, racial discrimination that resulted in the NFL’s color line not being broken until 13 years later.
The good news? Marshall has a foundation now that actually provides scholarships for kids of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
The big news release coming out of the team’s headquarters in Ashburn on Saturday was that the late Bobby Mitchell, the man who broke Washington’s color barrier in 1962, was to become just the second player in franchise history to have his number retired by the team. Without mentioning Marshall’s name, the team conveniently also said that Mitchell would now have the lower bowl of FedEx Field named after him. Until today, that level was called the George Preston Marshall Section.
The symmetry is perfect. The first African American player in franchise history is to replace the segregationist owner who never wanted him on the roster in the first place. Beautiful. But not enough.
“My hope now is they finally have enough momentum to change the name of the team,” Wright said. “We always have these social-conscience pushes from time to time and nothing happens. This time, it needs to happen.”
Wright’s last memory of seeing her grandfather was when she was 13. He had a stroke in 1963 and died in 1969. “I just remember my mother calling and saying it’s okay if you don’t come back for the funeral. So I didn’t.”
I imagine Snyder will have grandchildren one day. And they will ask and wonder about who he really was, deciding whether to adopt his values and beliefs. And on this I offer only one piece of advice: If he wants them to come back for his funeral, if he wants a monument of himself not to be defaced and torn down one day, he ought to remove the word “never” from his vocabulary before his own racial injustice is forever stamped as part of his legacy.