Neil Leifer, Sports Illustrated (

Heil to the Redskins! Photo Recalls Racism of NFL Team's First Owner


A photograph that was reincarnated by Mother Jones magazine, snapped by Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer back in 1961, shows that Washington’s NFL team was a favorite among American Nazis.

In 1961, a group of men marched with swastikas on their arms in protest of the integration of black players onto Washington’s NFL team. Until then, the D.C. franchise was White Only.

One of the signs they held says, “Mr. Marshall, Keep Redskins White!” At the time, George Preston Marshall’s Redskins were the last all-white team in the NFL. Another sign said, “Integration is not Black And White. It’s Red.”

More than 50 years later, the team’s current owner, Dan Snyder, is fighting to keep the racial slur as its logo.

In its article, Mother Jones recounts Marshall’s past:

The struggle to integrate Washington's football team is recounted in Thomas G. Smith's 2012 book, Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins. As Smith tells it, the showdown began in 1961, when John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, Stewart Udall, who'd committed to ending segregation anywhere in his sphere of influence, declared his intent to break pro football's last color bar. Udall later recalled, "I considered it outrageous that the Redskins were the last team in the NFL to have a lily-white policy."

The call for integration was met with opposition, most notably from the team's owner, George Preston Marshall, a laundromat magnate turned NFL bigwig who had held firm for years.

Marshall appeared as outraged by federal interference as he was by the prospect of diversity. "Why Negroes particularly?" he asked. "Why not make us hire a player from another race? In fact, why not a woman? Of course, we have had players who played like girls, but never an actual girl player." The controversy drew out assorted bigots, including neo-Nazis (above), who protested on Marshall's behalf to "Keep [the] Redskins White."

Udall had one advantage over Marshall: The team's new home field, DC Stadium (later renamed RFK Memorial), was federal property. With Kennedy's approval, Udall gave Marshall a choice: He could let black players on his team, or take his all-white squad to someone else's gridiron.

Thus, Udall, Kennedy's interior secretary, and President Kennedy forced Marshall to integrate the team because Marshall’s stadium was federal property which the government had unfettered control of.

Mother Jones, a publication that has boycotted using the name “Redskins,” redacted the word throughout its article and linked readers to some of the key moments in sports history in which racially insensitive mascots were used. You can read their timeline here.


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shayne del cohen's picture
shayne del cohen
Submitted by shayne del cohen on
Would be very appropriate for all news media to call the team "Washington" in any print or electronic media, thus wiping out any auditorial image or reinforcement.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Its all around us, the democrat party fought to keep people enslaved and against the civil rights movement. True unless you believe in rewriting history !

Jerry Roys's picture
Jerry Roys
Submitted by Jerry Roys on
I'm proud of my Red Skin, I never took the name as a racial slur, because I never believed it to be one. I love how the media makes it a racial slur though. Why are you wasting this ink and space on an NFL team logo. Write about something with substance, worth reading, like the multiple problems Natives are facing on the reservations. Tired of frivolous BS. If you're Native I'll listen to your argument, other than that don't bother.

John St.O.'s picture
John St.O.
Submitted by John St.O. on
to clarify...I too , like Dan Snyder, grew up rooting for this team. I understood, by about 1985, at age 22, that this name was considered offensive by some. Not a large portion of the population, but some. For me, it was enough people indignant over the name to also awaken feelings of kinship and compassion for my aboriginal brethren and sisters and now I too think it's time for a new name.

Cathie's picture
Submitted by Cathie on
Um? If "they" the white nazi's hate America so bad, perhaps they should move to Germany don't you think? Buh Bye

David Tobey's picture
David Tobey
Submitted by David Tobey on
As a D.C. metro resident in Maryland. If the D.C. residents don't care, why should you. Mind your business, some where else.

ronald whitehorse's picture
ronald whitehorse
Submitted by ronald whitehorse on
i think that the hoot and hollar about redskin is whimpy we are toughter than that and attention only gets more anger we are of peace. bob costas is a creep for his oration of name calling. redskin is a media event not an indian event.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Is this surprising? I wonder if they tried to use the excuse, "We're honoring African-Americans?"

chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on
to jerry roys....i agree with you 100 percent...there are a HELL of a lot more IMPORTANT things going on in indian country than who really gives a damn about the name of a football team???

William Clark's picture
William Clark
Submitted by William Clark on
While I support discontinuing the use of the derogatory term from native americans, I can't help but note in Navajo Times a couple lines about the Red Mesa Lady Redskins volley ball team.

Len Adams
Len Adams
Submitted by Len Adams on
@Jerry - I'm Native, too. I find it hard to describe to my kids why there's a cartoon of an Indian on the helmets and baseball caps of the teams we see on television. I find it hard to describe why there are people pretending to be Indians on television at these sporting events whooping and doing a tomahawk chants when none their Aunties or Uncles or any other actual Indians they know do these things around the house. There are plenty of issues that affect Native communities, and while this is not the only one, it is one of them. I don't see why I should have to choose between fighting these caricature portrayals OR fighting for healthcare and housing. It's a false choice.

David Campbell's picture
David Campbell
Submitted by David Campbell on
What a load of rubbish. There are far too many "politically correct" folk out there these days. Years ago, a young lady was a guest at an all female meeting in England and addressed the lady in charge as "Chair", at which point, the said "Chair" stood up to her full height of 4ft 11 and said "MADAM CHAIRMAN IF YOU PLEASE!" I know this happened as my mother was there.

Butts Larue
Butts Larue
Submitted by Butts Larue on
Why does no one seem to care that the tribes in VA have shown overwhelming support for Washington to remain the Redskins?

Donavon L. Osborne's picture
Donavon L. Osborne
Submitted by Donavon L. Osborne on
I am a Kansas city Chiefs fan. I like the redskins and am American Indian, leave my teams be .I always root for the underdogs,win or lose.

Ramon Epstein's picture
Ramon Epstein
Submitted by Ramon Epstein on
I read that book and it was kind of astounding the parallels between the Redskins and the Boston Red Sox who had a similar history with black players. Not only that, but the team marketed specifically to a Dixie audience by buying up southern radio stations. The only honourable Washington owner was Jack Kent Cooke. Daniel Snyder might not be a bald faced racist, but he has plenty of other embarrassing incidents to account for.