About George Preston Marshall
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.
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.
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.
Later life 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.
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."
Marshall was a very hands-on owner. For most of his tenure as the team's owner, he frequently micromanaged the team. The notable exception was during the Flaherty era — perhaps coincidentally, the franchise's first successful era.
However, he is best known- albeit unfavorably- for his intractable opposition to having African-Americans on his roster. According to professor Charles Ross, "For 24 years Marshall was identified as the leading racist in the NFL". Though the league had previously had a sprinkling of black players, blacks were excluded from all NFL teams just one year after Marshall entered the league.
While the rest of the league began signing individual blacks in 1946 and actually drafting blacks in 1949, Marshall held out until 1962 before signing a black player. (His intractability was mocked in Washington Post game stories by legendary writer Shirley Povich, who sarcastically used terms from the civil rights movement and related court cases to describe games: for instance, he once wrote that Jim Brown "integrated" the end zone, making the score "separate but unequal".) Moreover, the signing only came when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall issued an ultimatum – unless Marshall signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins' 30-year lease on the year-old D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium), which had been paid for by government money and was owned by the Washington city government (which, then and now, is formally an arm of the federal government). Marshall's chief response was to make Ernie Davis, Syracuse's all-American running back, his number-one draft choice for 1962. Davis, however, demanded a trade, saying, "I won't play for that S.O.B." He got his wish, as the team sent him to Cleveland for All-Pro Bobby Mitchell. Mitchell was the first African American football player to play a game for the Redskins, and he played with the team for several years, initially at running back, but he made his biggest impact at wide receiver.
"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.