I did not choose to be a Washington Redskins fan. It was embedded in my DNA like my wide nose and kinky hair. It was declared in the womb after a Northeast D.C. girl and Northwest D.C. boy found each other cute in the hallway of a junior high school.
I’m generations deep and old enough to remember the Fun Bunch and 1982 Super Bowl XVII where Redskin-God-of-Running-White-Men, John Riggins, broke it to the outside on 4th-and-1 to seal the game.
I still have my Doug Williams “Touch of Class” T-shirt and the Wheaties box (unopened) from the 1988 Super Bowl. So it’s with a heavy heart that I say I’m looking for a new team and this is the worst breakup I’ve ever gone through in my life.
On Monday night, my beloved Redskins took the field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was hype, not only for the game, but for what I hoped would be a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Kaepernick has been doing his best to raise awareness around the league and the country surrounding the issue of police brutality and the overpolicing of minority communities. He’s been a vocal and concerned spokesman who began his protest silently during a preseason game when he sat as the national anthem played. When asked about his protest, he said this:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
But my Redskins players walked out onto the field and did what the organization has done historically when it comes to taking a stand against the subjugation of oppressed people.
They. Did. Nothing.
Not one fist was raised to say, “I know the struggle you face and I’m here with you.” Not one person took a knee to say the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley and countless others would not be forgotten. Not one player looked back into the stands of FedExField and said I’m rooting for you, too.
As if that weren’t bad enough, knowing that the right wing has tried to make the Movement for Black Lives an anti-American issue (which America also has a history of doing; see slavery and the civil rights movement), several players walked onto the field and grabbed the American flag as if to say, “We black athletes are not those black athletes.” It might have been the most house n–ger behavior I’ve ever witnessed.
The Redskins have historically been one of the most racist organizations since their inception. In 1932, George Preston Marshall purchased the Boston Braves and moved the team to Washington in 1937. He changed the team’s name to the Washington Redskins. Marshall was not only a notorious racist but also blatant and unapologetic in his feelings toward blacks.
When he proposed to his wife, Corrine, in 1936, he arranged for a group of African-American performers to sing “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.” He also had two black women dressed in Gone With the Wind costumes bring them mint juleps.
The Redskins were not only the last team to integrate under Marshall’s watch—in 1962—but they did so only after the Kennedy administration issued a threatening letter saying that if it did not allow black players on the team, the government would revoke the lease for the stadium, which was built on federal land.
Later that year, the Redskins would draft Syracuse’s top running back, Ernie Davis, who refused to play for the team because it was so racist.
Marshall was so racist that even after his death, he stipulated in his will that not a single dollar from the Redskins Foundation be spent to serve “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”
And the racism has been passed around from owner to owner.
The team name is an obvious racial slur against Native Americans, but current team owner Daniel Snyder not only refuses to address the issue respectfully but adamantly defends the continued use of the name.
Initially I thought it was a marketing thing and that Snyder was just playing tough on the name because he didn’t want to lose money, and then I remembered that we’d seen this before when Washington, D.C., was leading the nation’s murder rate and the basketball team was named the Bullets. Chris Webber and Juwan Howard led the push to be more socially responsible, and just like that, we became the Wizards.
Point is, it’s doable, and clearly, two lessons have been learned in all of this: When an owner doesn’t care about the feelings of Native Americans, the players, most of whom are black, won’t care about the feelings of African Americans. It’s the trickle-down effect of high-level racism. I expected at least one player to take a stand on the right side of history, forgetting that when it comes to issues of race, the Redskins have always punted.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.