Sunday, October 09, 2011

Political Venue: The History of RFK Stadium, Part Three

Colored players need not apply

With the government already agreeing effectively to bail out the Redskins in the form of a new stadium, all that remained was to work out the details. The absence of black players happened to be one of those details. Curly R's special series on the history of RFK Stadium continues.

Part One: Faded Glory
Part Two: Government Intervention
Part Three: Football and Race
Part Four: A Complex Relationship
Part Five: Ernie Davis, Bobby Mitchell and Ron Hatcher
Part Six: Wednesday
Part Seven: Thursday


While the Redskins were struggling in the present, a famous and influential figure was examining the Redskins past. Senator John F. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, had been elected president in November 1960, upon taking office President Kennedy named his brother Robert, or Bobby, Kennedy as attorney general. Both the president and his brother were vocal proponents of civil rights and racial equality, the president having been in office as a senator during the passage of the first two major civil rights bill in Congress since Reconstruction, in 1957 and 1960.

Bobby Kennedy was personally appalled by the failure of the Redskins to integrate, the team still had not had a black player in George Preston Marshall's entire tenure as owner, dating back twenty-eight years to 1932.

Prior to George joining the fraternity of NFL owners, there had been a handful of black NFL players between 1920 and 1933, most notably Fritz Pollard. At his first meeting as an NFL owner in February 1933, George floated a package of proposals, many of which individually would be seminal in the development of the NFL as a sport of mass appeal: That the league should be split into Divisions, better to host a World Championship game; that the old school 'fat' football should be slimmed down so as to facilitate the passing game; and that the goalposts should be moved to the goal line so as to increase scoring.

George's package also included one unfortunate proposal: That roster spots should be denied, indefinitely, to black players.

The proposal before the owners was approved, with the inclusion of the lockout of black players. The proposal might not have passed were it not for the endorsement of the plan by Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas; many believe Halas was agreeing to take the bad with the good for the better of the league.

And so the NFL did not have any black players between 1933 and 1946, thirteen long years. By 1952, every team but the Redskins had at least one black player. And nine years later in 1961 the Redskins still were all-white.

But Bobby Kennedy had found a way to exert influence on the team and its headstrong owner: Threaten to take away DC Stadium from the Redskins before they had even played in it.

Political Venue: The History of RFK Stadium continues tomorrow with part four, A Complex Relationship.

RFK Stadium: Dudley Brooks / Washington Post photo from here via here.