Stewart Udall Changed The NFL’s Washington’s Team Segregation Policy

A new stadium was the catalyst.

February is BlackHistory Month and in 1962, there was a very significant change in NFL culturethat should be noted. President John F. Kennedy’s Interior Department forced ateam to desegregate. Cleveland traded Bobby Mitchell to Washington in a deal thatwas initiated by the White House. Cleveland got the NFL rights to SyracuseUniversity running back Ernie Davis. The Washington owner George PrestonMarshall, who never hid his racial views, did not hire any Negro players forhis team. The federal government had decided to build a multi-purpose stadiumin Washington. The stadium forced Marshall’s hand as Kennedy’s Secretary of theInterior Stewart Udall told Marshall there was a law that prohibiteddiscrimination in federal facilities. D. C. Stadium would be a federalfacility. Udall gave Marshall an ultimatum, hire Negro players or findsomewhere else to play.

Marshall got a 30-year lease with the federal government only after selecting Davis and making the Mitchell deal. Marshall was the last owner in the National Football League to desegregate his team. The NFL banned black players from 1934to 1945 and there was some thought among NFL historians after Marshall’s purchase of the Boston franchise in 1932, he had influence on other owners that led to the policy. Marshall moved his Boston franchise to Washington in 1937.Marshall’s team ran onto the field with the song, “Hail to the Redskins” playing. That tune included a lyric “Fight for Old Dixie” which was eventually changed to “Fight for Old D.C”. Marshallis a Pro Football Hall of Fame member. Udall and a stadium forced a change in Washington’s NFL team’s segregation policy. The NFL was completely integrated.

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