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George Preston Marshall

George Preston Marshall in early 1950's photo

George Preston Marshall

Date of birth (1896-10-11)October 11, 1896
Place of birth Grafton, West Virginia
Date of death August 9, 1969(1969-08-09) (aged 72)
Place of death Washington, D.C. U.S.
No.
Career highlights
Coaching Record / Statistics
Career player statistics (if any)
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Team(s) as a player (if any)
Team(s) as a coach/administrator (if any)
1932–1969 Boston/Washington Redskins
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963

George Preston Marshall (1896–1969) was the owner and president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL) from 1932 until his death in 1969.

Biography[]

Contributions[]

Marshall was born in Grafton, West Virginia on October 11, 1896 to Thomas Hildebrand ("Hill") Marshall and Blanche Preston Marshall. In 1932, while he was the owner of a chain of laundries in Washington, D.C., founded by his father, he and three other partners were awarded an NFL franchise for Boston. This team became known as the Boston Braves, as they played on the same field as baseball's Boston Braves. Marshall's partners left the team after one season, leaving him in control. In 1933 he moved the team from Braves Field to Fenway Park, changing the team nickname to the Redskins. In 1937 he moved the team to Washington. He was romantically tied to silent screen actress Louise Brooks throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and she gave him the nickname "Wet Wash" due to his owning of the laundry chain. He was married to film actress-author Corinne Griffith from 1936 to 1958.

Although his team enjoyed great success, Marshall is known more for many of the frills which now mark the modern football game. During the early days of the NFL, college football was more popular. Marshall decided to incorporate elements of the college atmosphere into the professional league. Innovations which he introduced include gala halftime shows, a marching band, and a fight song. The Redskins marching band is currently only one of two officially sanctioned by any NFL team. The fight song, "Hail to the Redskins" is one of the most famous in the NFL. Marshall, along with George Halas, suggested two major rules changes designed to open up the game and increase scoring which were subsequently adopted. One was to allow a forward pass to be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, rather than at a minimum of five yards behind the line which was previously the rule. Another was the move of the goal posts from the end line to the goal line, where they were (and are) located in Canadian football, to encourage the kicking of field goals. This change remained in place for about four decades until NFL goal posts were returned to the end line in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to lessen the influence on the game of kicking specialists. Upon obtaining the team in 1932, Marshall also pushed to standardize the schedule so that each team played the same number of games, that the teams be split into divisions with the winners meeting in the championship game, and that game gate receipts be split between the home team and the visitor on either a 60–40 split or a guaranteed amount of money, whichever was larger.[1]

Marshall did many things to try to endear the team to the people of Washington. During the 1937 season, Marshall rented a train and brought 10,000 fans to New York to watch the team play the New York Giants. These actions paid off, and even today, Redskins fans are considered among the league's most loyal, and some of the most likely to travel in large numbers to away games.

In the 1950s, Marshall was the first NFL owner to embrace the new medium of television. He initiated the first network appearances for any NFL team, and built a huge television network to broadcast Redskins games across the South.

Controversy[]

As a result of a "gentlemen's agreement" promoted by Marshall, NFL teams did not sign black players until 1946, when 2 teams broke the agreement. Marshall refused to do so, claiming that integrating the team would cause the team to lose fans in the Southern United States and the team was at the time the southernmost team in the NFL.[2][3] He said that "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites."[4]

His refusal to integrate was routinely mocked by Shirley Povich, a columnist for The Washington Post, who called him "one of pro football’s greatest innovators, and its leading bigot."[5] Marshall unsuccessfully sued Povich for $200,000 after a critical article.[6]

Marshall downplayed the issue of integration, saying "I am surprised that with the world on the brink of another war they are worried about whether or not a Negro is going to play for the Redskins" and doubted that "the government had the right to tell the showman how to cast the play." Marshall had a long-running feud with Redskins shareholder Harry Wismer, who favored integration.[4]

In 1962, United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and Attorney General of the United States Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum that unless Marshall signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins' 30-year lease on D.C. Stadium (now RFK Memorial Stadium), which had been paid for by government money and was owned by the city government.[7] Marshall selected Ernie Davis, Syracuse University's All-American running back, as his top draft choice in the 1962 NFL Draft. However, Davis refused to play for the team and was traded to the Cleveland Browns for All-Pro Bobby Mitchell, who became the first African American to play a game for the Redskins.[8] Marshall became an enthusiastic supporter of Mitchell.[9] The Redskins only had three winning seasons in the 23 years between the 1946 integration and Marshall's death in 1969.[6][4] On a television show, Oscar Levant asked Marshall if he was anti-Semitic. He responded: "Oh no, I love Jews, especially when they're customers."[4]

In June 2020, a statue of Marshall was removed from the grounds of RFK Stadium after it was defaced and vandalized following the George Floyd protests.[10] The same month, his name was removed from the team's Ring of Fame at FedExField.[11]

Later years and death[]

Marshall suffered a debilitating stroke in 1963, soon after his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He died in August 1969, and his funeral was held at the National Cathedral in Washington with a huge crowd in attendance. Marshall is buried in Indian Mound Cemetery, Romney, West Virginia.

Legacy[]

His legacy includes the George Preston Marshall Foundation which serves the interests of children in the Washington, DC area. The $6 million he left had the qualification that none of it could be used "for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration."

Quotes[]

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  • "The Bears are front-runners. Quitters. They are not a second-half team, just a bunch of cry-babies." Marshall said this after the Redskins beat the Bears on a disputed call during the regular season in 1940. It helped motivate the Bears to beat Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game 73–0.
  • "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites."
  • "Mr. Marshall was an outspoken foe of the status quo when most were content with it. His fertile imagination and vision brought vital improvements to the structure and presentation of the game. Pro football today does in many ways reflect his personality. It has his imagination, style, zest, dedication, openness, brashness, strength and courage. We all are beneficiaries of what his dynamic personality helped shape over more than three decades." – NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle
  • "Marshall was totally involved in all aspects of his team’s operation and endured his share of criticism for not integrating his team until being forced to do so in 1962." – Pro Football Hall of Fame, as part of Marshall's qualifications for induction.

References[]

  1. The Story of Pro Football,Howard Roberts (1953). pp. 196–197. Rand McNally & Company. ISBN .
  2. Vargas, Theresa. "Granddaughter of former Redskins owner George P. Marshall condemns team’s name", The Washington Post, July 23, 2014. 
  3. Yardley, Jonathan. "‘Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins,' by Thomas Smith", The Washington Post, September 2, 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named gridiron
  5. Fortier, Sam. "Redskins to remove George Preston Marshall's name from all team material", The Washington Post, June 24, 2020. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named life
  7. "A 'Showdown' That Changed Football's Racial History", NPR, September 4, 2011. 
  8. "Ernie Davis' legacy lives on long after his death", National Football League, October 8, 2008. 
  9. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named dies
  10. Gordon, Grant. "George Preston Marshall statue removed at RFK Stadium", National Football League, June 19, 2020. 
  11. Keim, John. "Redskins removing name of former owner George Preston Marshall from Ring of Fame", ESPN, June 24, 2020. 

Further reading[]

External links[]


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