Skip to main content
Publish date:

Washington Redskins: 10 Facts About the Team's Name

Washington Redskins: 10 Facts About the Team's Name

Washington Redskins: 10 Facts About the Team's Name

When the Washington Redskins officially change their name, it will not happen without controversy. The name has been the subject of disagreement since the 1980s, and one is hard-pressed to find someone who has not taken a position on this issue. If you are still on the fence, here are 10 facts to consider.

1. The term "Redskin" was considered racist in the late 1800s

It is generally understood that whites and Native Americans both used the term "redskin" in the 18th and first half of the 19th Centuries. The second half of the 1800s saw numerous skirmishes between Native Americans and the U.S. Army, and the word was used in a negative context and in conjunction with collecting Indian scalps. In 1898, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary first listed the word, and its definition said that it was "often contemptuous." Despite the pejoration, the dictionary-defined slur was negatively used in many westerns, including "Northwest Passage," "Broken Arrow," and "Once Upon a Time in the West."

2. The team started out as the Boston Braves

George Preston Marshall founded the team as the Boston Braves in 1932. He gave the franchise that name because the team played at Braves Field, home of MLB's Boston Braves. At the time, it was common practice for an NFL team to take the name of its baseball counterpart (The New York Giants is the most notable example).

3. The name was changed for marketing purposes

in 1933, Marshall moved the team to Fenway Park and changed the name to the Redskins. A common misconception is that he did it in honor of the team's head coach, William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, who was Native American, along with other players on the team. However, Marshall said that he changed it to avoid confusion with the Braves while keeping aligned with the brand, stating, "The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins."

4. The Redskins were the first franchise to switch cities and keep its mascot

It was common for franchises in the early days of the NFL to change their mascots when they moved to a new city. When Marshall moved the team to Washington, D.C., in 1937, the Redskins became the first franchise to keep their name. (Note: The Decatur Staleys played as the Chicago Staleys for one season before changing its name to the Bears). But to be fair, the Redskins had played for the NFL Championship in 1936, so Marshall did already have a brand.

Recommended Articles

5. The original lyrics to "Hail to the Redskins" had broken English and were more violent

First performed in 1938, "Hail to the Redskins" is one of the oldest fight songs in NFL history. Its original lyrics referenced scalping and appeared to mock Native American speech, reading: "Scalp 'em, swamp 'um / We will take 'um big score / Read 'um, Weep 'um, / Touchdown! — We want heap more." In 1972, a delegation of Native American leaders met with Redskins President Edward Bennett Williams and asked him to change the name. He didn't do that, but the lyrics were soon changed to read: "Run or pass and score—We want a lot more! / Beat 'em, Swamp 'em, / Touchdown! — Let the points soar!"

6. The Redskins were marketed as the team of the South

With no other NFL teams in the South until the 1960s, Marshall marketed the Redskins as its team, having "Dixie" played as the countermelody to "Hail to the Redskins." The team even changed the lyrics to the fight song to say, "Fight for Old Dixie" from 1959-61. By the late 1960s, the NFL finally added teams in the South, and the Redskins had stopped playing "Dixie" after a black Redskins fan wrote the franchise requesting that it do so because of the racial unrest that it caused.

7. The Redskins were the last team to integrate

The Redskins name has elicited controversy, but the question of whether George Preston Marshall was a racist should not. Marshall was a segregationist who said on-the-record, "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." When the NFL integrated in 1946, Marshall did not sign a single black player until 1962 after the federal government forced him to do so. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy told Marshall that if he did not sign a black player, the government would revoke his lease on D.C. Stadium (now RFK Stadium), which sits on government land. The Redskins acquiesced and drafted Syracuse running back Ernie Davis. When he refused to play for the team, Davis was traded to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell, who is now in the Hall of Fame.

8. The name has been controversial for 50 years

While national protests over the Redskins name did not begin until 1988, there have been news articles around the controversy over the team's name since 1971. The argument spread from the D.C. area to nationwide when the team won the second of its three Super Bowls.

9. Colleges have ditched the Redskins mascot

Three universities also carried the Redskins mascot but changed names years ago. The University of Utah switched to the Utes in 1972, Miami University (Ohio) became the RedHawks in 1997, and Southern Nazarene University changed to the Crimson Storm in 1998.

10. High schools still carry the Redskins name

There are currently 48 high schools in the United States with the Redskins mascot, and three of them are majority Native American schools. The principal of one of them, Red Mesa High School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, said that word should not be used outside of the Native American community because it could perpetuate "the legacy of negativity that the term has created."

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.