Let’s take a step back in time, before email scandals and social media outrage.
George Preston Marshall and the city of Boston were awarded an NFL franchise on July 9, 1932. Originally called the Boston Braves, the following year, Marshall changed the name to the Boston Redskins and the venue to historic Fenway Park.
To make the Native American disrespect complete, Marshall hired William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz as the head coach. Dietz was a white man posing as a member of the Sioux tribe. However, his heritage was first contested in 1916 and he eventually was indicted in 1919 on federal charges of falsely registering for the draft as Native American, leading to a conviction.
Dietz had stolen the identity of James One Star, a Native American who had disappeared in 1894.
The Redskins moved to Washington, D.C., in 1937 and by 1961 were the last football franchise to integrate its ranks. In 1962, Washington became the final professional American football franchise to integrate.
However, the team was under the threat of civil rights legal action by the John F. Kennedy administration. For the first time in history, the federal government had essentially desegregated a professional sports team.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the protest movement sparked by the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. A zeal to change the team’s controversial name came from investors and sponsors willing to pull funding if a change didn’t come.
By July 2020, The Washington Football team was born reluctantly as owner Dan Snyder bowed to pressure.
A year later, an independent investigation into the team’s workplace culture concluded that sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation were commonplace under Snyder’s ownership throughout the organization.
The NFL fined the team $10 million in response. However, during this investigation, emails between then-ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and the then-general manager of the Washington Football Team, Bruce Allen.
According to a report from The New York Times, the content from Gruden to Allen from 2010 through 2018 used sexist, homophobic, and transphobic language.
Allen, the recipient, is the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen. He was the head coach of the Washington Redskins from 1971 to 1977.
His brother was the former Virginia governor and the United States Sen. George Allen. During his gubernatorial tenure, Allen reformed welfare and abolished parole for those convicted of a felony in 1995.
He also opposed Martin Luther King Day in Virginia. The creation of such a holiday would be “tampering with Lee-Jackson Day,” Allen complained. But worst of all, Allen went so far as to call the holiday “demeaning to all those outstanding Virginians who we haven’t honored.”
Bruce Allen never turned in his friend Jon Gruden’s emails. Why would he when raised in a nepotistic good ole boy system? The NFL system that had to force George Preston Marshall to hire Black players and the same system in which Dan Synder couldn’t understand why the tradition wasn’t more important than righting a naming historical wrong.
Jon Gruden is the sacrifice, and deservedly so, but as the email history compares to actual history, the annals align perfectly. The NFL has harbored, coddled, and curated hegemony on the highest levels since inception.
To be an owner of an NFL franchise is a hallmark moment for titans of industry and an exclusive one mainly for white men. Shine the light as brightly as possible on Jon Gruden. But widen its scope, and a system of enablers appears
George Marshall’s statue was defaced and removed in 2020.
Remember Marshall when you think Gruden, and you will see how he never saw an exposition coming.