Thursday, 29 September 2016

Fight for Old DC

Written by Andrew O'Toole, the Fight for Old DC started in 1932 when laundry store tycoon George Preston Marshall became part owner of the Boston Braves franchise in the National Football League. To separate the team from the baseball team of the same name, he renamed it the Redskins in 1933 and moved them to Washington in 1937. 

Marshall was an innovator, his team were the first to telecast all their games, have their own fight song (as is customary in College Football), have half-time entertainment and assemble a cheerleading squad.

However, innovation does not come without controversy. As a proud patriot of the old South and the flag of the Confederacy; Marshall insisted on his team remaining white, his team were the last team to intergrate black professional football players.

Partly due to pressure by NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle who wanted league expansion across the nation and the new television contracts, as well as pressure from Congress; the reluctant owner would eventually relent and pushed the team trading for Bobby Mitchell, in 1962 becoming the team's first black player. Mitchell's image adorns the books front cover.

O'Toole does a fine job of not only researching the era, but painting a picture of the systemic problem of racism that is so paramount and at the forefront of current affairs in the United States currently.  Quoting Sam Lacy, columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American;
'Only in the capital of the nation, in a stadium be-deckled by flags of freedom 
does the spirit of democracy get kicked in the pants'

Lacy liked referring to Marshall's team as lily-white, which would go hand-in-hand with contemporary beat writer Shirley Povich, who would refer to 'the decor Marshall has chosen for the Redskins is burgundy, gold and Causcasian'.

Yet for all his innate bigotry, the forward thinking of Marshall cannot be ignored:
Image result for george marshall nfl images'
You'll see the time comes when having good seats to a pro football game becomes a status symbol, when almost every stadium in the land is sold out before the season begins....Going to the football games will be the thing to do in the social fabric of the nation. It will be all that because we're going to make fans of the women, and what appeals to the women will carry along the men who are national football fans.'

This was said by Marshall in 1952 as he nursed a drink with writers, what he states could easily be used as the tagline for the NFL by Goodell in the 21st century.  From humble beginnings, the NFL has become this monster of commerce, growth and yet it has sometimes forgotten about the well-being of its players, be it the black players being segregated or up to now the safety of the players being put at risk by a high impact physicality that cannot be absorbed by the human body irrespective of padding and protection.

Imagine an owner today being so racist, you cannot because at that level of professional sport there is a need to be integrated and understanding of all people you employ, your fanbase may be of that skin colour so you have to embrace it.  There has been a lot of misunderstandings with the stance Colin Kaepernick has taken in light of police brutality in targeting black individuals culminating in another tense few days in Carolina, yet no owner has come out and told their players that they can or cannot stand and protest like Kaepernick has done. The owners stand too lose too much, in this day and age it is right to protest peacefully.

While it is good to see people like Marshall be out of the game now, for all his fall backs he was a trend-setter who did burn a trail for louder-than-life owners who wanted the team they owned to be an extension of their personality, like we have Jerry Jones now and his JerryWorld complex.

The book itself is fascinating with its insights into the world of professional sports and how it has changed pre and post Second World War, how sport became more and more a part of the social fabric Marshall mentioned, how NFL has slowly overtaken Major League Baseball.

Filled with amazing anecdotes and brimming with interesting characters who pour out of this opus ranging from the aforementioned Rozelle and Lacy to the hard working Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall who after being picked for the job by JFK, took it upon himself to integrate the nation's football team, it gives the appeal of a big picture of new v old and liberalism v bigotry.

The Fight for Old DC is not just a valuable football book but an important book of cultural understanding.

Published by University of Nebraska Press it is released on 1st November in Hardback for £22.99RRP

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