Fight for Old DC: George Preston Marshall, the Integration of the Washington Redskins, and the Rise of a New NFL

Fight for Old DC: George Preston Marshall, the Integration of the Washington Redskins, and the Rise of a New NFL

Fight for Old DC: George Preston Marshall, the Integration of the Washington Redskins, and the Rise of a New NFL

Fight for Old DC: George Preston Marshall, the Integration of the Washington Redskins, and the Rise of a New NFL

Synopsis

In 1932 laundry-store tycoon George Preston Marshall became part owner of the Boston Braves franchise in the National Football League.

To separate his franchise from the baseball team, he renamed it the Redskins in 1933 and then moved his team to Washington DC in 1937, where the team won two NFL championships over the next decade. But it was off the field that Marshall made his lasting impact. An innovator, he achieved many "firsts" in professional football. His teams were the first to telecast all their games, have their own fight song and a halftime show, and assemble their own marching band and cheerleading squad. He viewed football as an entertainment business and accordingly made changes to increase scoring and improve the fan experience.

But along with innovation, there was controversy. Marshall was a proud son of the South, and as the fifties came to a close, his team remained the only franchise in the three major league sports to not have a single black player. Marshall came under pressure from Congress and the NFL and its president, Pete Rozelle, as league expansion and new television contract possibilities forced the issue on the reluctant owner. Outside forces finally pushed Marshall to trade for Bobby Mitchell, the team's first black player, in 1962. With the story of Marshall's holdout as the backdrop, Fight for Old DC chronicles these pivotal years when the NFL began its ascent to the top of the nation's sporting interest.

Excerpt

George Preston Marshall— this name kept popping up as I researched the life of Art Rooney for an earlier project. Marshall— well, all I knew of him previously was that his Washington Redskins were the last major sports franchise to integrate.

Indeed “Marshall the bigot” is an enduring legacy, but there was much more to the man than this unfortunate memory. He was a showman, a sportsman, a man of great foresight and imagination. the more I learned, the more intrigued with him I became. But was Marshall worthy of a full-scale biography? Perhaps, but in Marshall I saw something else. He reminded me of the great baseball folk figure Bill Veeck. Like Veeck, Marshall seemingly popped up whenever a significant issue confronted his sport. He was there at the ready, with an opinion and a solution to whatever problem might arise.

I began to envision a story in which Marshall played the lead, a role as an individual who finds himself immersed in every vital issue confronting his sport. Previously I have chronicled some of the sports world’s great characters, including Branch Rickey, Paul Brown, and Rooney. Those figures are tough acts to follow indeed, but Marshall’s intrinsic pomposity and unflappable verbosity make him a writer’s dream.

But Marshall is just a part of the tale told here. Interwoven throughout the narrative are the stories of numerous players who crossed his path. Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle— two men essential to the rise of the National Football League— are here. So are Shirley Povich and Sam Lacy, two journalists who wielded the power of the pen to poke and compel. There is the politician Stewart Udall, who used his position of authority to make this country more democratic. and then there’s a football player, Bobby Mitchell, who wanted nothing more than an equal opportunity to ply his skills in his chosen profession.

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