The Roaring Twenties are remembered for prohibition, organized crime, Jazz and flappers. It was also the Golden Age of Sports, and many professional teams incorporated racist nicknames for the identity of their franchise: Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Redskins and Warriors. Red-faced mascots were fashioned, Indian dances choreographed, face paintings promoted and feathered headdresses designed. Organizations (college and professional) created multi-million dollar franchises off “Indian” brand names.xiv
As the Great Depression wreaked havoc across the country, George Preston Marshall, a racist and segregationist, invested in professional football along with two other partners.xv The trio were awarded a franchise in Boston and decided to name the new team the Braves, which was the same designation as the baseball club in the city. In 1935, Marshall endorsed and convinced the other owners to ban African-Americans from playing in the NFL, and his franchise was the last team to sign an African-American player, trading for Bobby Mitchell in 1962.
It is not surprising that Marshall embraced the racial stereotypes of the era. He collected popular derogatory merchandise of Native Americans: Cigar-store Indian statues and heads, paintings, famous Indian chiefs’ portraits, Indian blankets and other artifacts.xvi Marshall decorated his office with the racist regale of the first half of the century. In the middle of the Depression, he changed the franchises name to Redskins and moved the team to Washington D.C. in 1937. The derogatory term is a clear discriminatory slur, and in the 19th Century, the federal government paid for bloody scalps of dead Native Americans.
One of the more racist tropes is the Washington Redskins fight song Hail to the Redskins:
Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the Warpath
Fight for old D.C.
Run or Pass or Score
We need a lot more
Beat 'em Swamp 'em Touchdown
Let the Points Soar
Fight On, Fight On 'til you have won
Sons of Washington
Scalp 'em Swamp 'em
We will take 'em Big Score
Read 'em Weep 'em Touchdown
We want heaps more!
Fight On, Fight On, 'til you have won
Sons of Washington
Marshall wanted to sell tickets and devised a racial-induced marketing strategy to promote the team. He hired coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, a self-proclaimed American Indian, and promoted Dietz’s ancestry to fill seats. Many historians do not believe that Dietz was Native American, and that he misrepresented his heritage to gain renown. Before home games, Marshall required Dietz to wear Indian feathers and war paint. “‘In the thirties,’ Cliff Battles remembered, ‘we would, at the urging of George, put on war paint before a game and so a little Indian dance to entertain the paying customers. None of us liked that very much…[it]was so overdone it was embarrassing.’”xvii Despite opposition to the stereotypes, Dietz assisted in the promotion of the white-supremist narrative and designed the team logo, which has a long history of colorblindness among sports fans across the nation.