The cheerleaders are one of the reasons I'm a Washington Redskins fan when so many other African-Americans slightly older than me are not. Those thoughts came to me when I received my invitation to attend the Redskins Cheerleaders final audition on April 3.
I started going to Redskins games because my Dad, Bless his memory, wanted his son to see the first Negro (that's what we called ourselves in 1962) to play for the team. Dad only planned to go for a couple of seasons. That thought died with the arrival of Sonny Jurgensen and Charley Taylor who, with Bobby Mitchell, the player we went to see, made the 'Skins the most exciting losing team in NFL history. Good times.
The generation of DC football fans ahead of me were are not so forgiving. They cheered against George Prestion Marshall and his bigoted approach to marketing the team by catering to the cultural sensitivities of the Confederates South. Marshall thought Southerners appreciated representation by a losing team as long as it was an all-white team.
Marshall's attitude exposed him to nationwide ridicule, most famously by sports columnist Shirley Povich of the hometown POST. But Marshall's uncompromising attitude stood in the light of the Civil Rights Movement and the dangerously hateful reaction it engendered.
A lot of Washington football fans connected the two felt betrayed by Marshall's recalcitrance. Marshall was in his decline and never appreciated how hurtful it was. Those fans vented their feelings by cheering for the Cowboys, or whoever was playing Marshall that week. Many still do. Why didn't I feel the same?
My career in the years after college led me to the upper Midwest where I lived close enough to go to Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings games over the next several decades. One thing always struck me every time I flew home for a Redskins game (thanks again, Dad). The Redskinettes had more women of color, and sooner, than those other teams.
I cannot prove it. It's only anecdotal evidence from my personal, small sample observation. I say the Redskins, last to integrate the roster, were the first to integrate its cheerleader team and, over the years, had the most diversified squad in the NFL. Oakland and perhaps Atlanta could give Washington a run for the money on that. I'll have to do a survey between the Draft and the labor settlement.
In my mind, that ought to balance Marshall symbolically standing in the door of his locker room a la George Wallace at Alabama. I understand if those old folks feel otherwise. I refuse to root for the Crimson Tide today, thanks to that image of Wallace. In his old age, Wallace denouonced that bigotry. Marshall never did. The Redskinettes spoke for him
The Redskins Cheerleaders Alumni are silent about that part of their history. So it falls to, um, "seasoned" fans like me to tell the story. It's a story worth telling and the Washington deserve credit for it.
Now, where are those field glasses?