Although this provocative title promises a focused account of how President Kennedy forced the Redskins to integrate in the early 1960s—making them the last team in the NFL to do so—historian Smith covers a much broader swath. He opens with a brief prologue establishing the showdown, but it isn't until midway through the book that he returns to describe how Stewart Udall, Kennedy's secretary of the interior, forced Redskins founder and owner George Marshall to draft black players by threatening to cancel the team's lease on D.C. Stadium (later renamed RFK Stadium). The first half details the Redskins' origins in Boston in 1932 (the team moved to Washington in 1937) on through the 1960s. Smith offers a comprehensive look at the life of Marshall, an innovator in the development of the modern NFL, who Smith paints as a "hidebound racist." Despite Kennedy's name prominently in the title, JFK played only a sideline role in the conflict. Readers hoping for insight into another facet of his presidency will be sorely disappointed, but those interested in the story of Marshall and the first 30 years of the Washington Redskins will find much to relish. (Sept.)
“This excellent book will become a welcome addition to either your sports or American history library. The author paints a painful tale but one that has a very heartening ending.”—American Chronicle
“A sports and environmental historian, Smith skillfully follows two narratives—the founding and growth of the Redskins franchise and the move to integrate pro football—until they collide in 1961, producing the book’s climax.”—The Sunday News
“In the end, Showdown, which is thoroughly researched…does a fine job of filling in this bleak episode on our cultural history…”—The New York Review of Books
“Smith brings out all the little footnotes that get left on history's doorstep in Showdown…It's a fascinating read.”—New York Amsterdam News
“Smith’s book is well researched and full of colorful detail...it tells an underappreciated story of social change.”—Boston Globe
“Smith does a great job of outlining the history of Marshall and the Redskins as well as the civil rights movement in the sports world…paints a broad picture that allows the reader to learn the background of the major players and the social climate at the time…An interesting read for those looking to learn more about the early history of football and civil rights in sports.”—RealClearSports.com
“Thomas Smith relies on years of research and clear-eyed prose as he depicts a regrettable time when George Preston Marshall’s all-white Washington Redskins stubbornly refused to use African-American players. In a fascinating narrative, the indefatigable Marshall is an aging football lion surprised to find himself backed into a corner by the gathering forces of a new era.”—John Eisenberg, author of That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory
“Much has been written about the Boston Red Sox as MLB’s final hold-out against racial integration, but comparatively little has been written about their NFL analog—the stubbornly intransigent Washington Redskins. A well-researched and much needed exploration, Showdown captures a racially discriminatory moment in sports history that should no longer be ignored.”—N. Jeremi Duru, author of Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL
“Showdown is a poignant and powerful work, a gripping story that will be of interest to anyone wanting to see beyond the hoopla of professional athletics and to understand the turf war that went on in the hallowed sanctum of professional football to eradicate Jim Crow and the color line. Smith’s book should be mandatory reading for all NFL players, owners, and fans.”—Donald Spivey, author of Fire From The Soul: A History of the African-American Struggle
“Richly detailed and impeccably researched, Smith recounts a significant yet relatively unknown episode in the social history of sport. Included in this riveting story is a cast of some of the biggest names in sports and politics of the era—from JFK to Jackie Robinson. Showdown is a classic gridiron tale for history junkies and avid sports fans alike.”—Phillip Hoose, National Book Award winner, author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice and Hoosiers
“Smith has written a thoughtful and engaging book that details the racial integration of one of professional football’s most storied franchises. With great insight and passion, he explains how African American athletes finally cracked the color barrier to play for the Washington Redskins amid the turmoil of the civil rights movement and the nation’s quest for equality on and off the playing field.”—David K. Wiggins, author of Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America
In a 1987 piece in the Journal of Sports History, Smith wrote of how the Kennedy administration moved to integrate the last all-white team in major professional sports—the Washington Redskins—right in the nation's capital. Now Smith expands the story to detail the history of the team from its Boston origins in 1932 but focuses primarily on its founder and owner, George Preston Marshall, an obnoxious, brilliant, flamboyant, segregationist showman who marketed the Redskins as the team of Dixie. Marshall's shortsighted, racist policy not to employ black players combined with his intrusive treatment of his coaches made his team a loser. Despite producing just one winning season in a decade and a half, Marshall stubbornly refused to change until interior secretary Stewart Udall issued an order to integrate the Redskins if the team wished to play in the new D.C. Stadium built on federal land. A wonderfully told story for both football and civil rights history readers.
Smith (History/Nichols Coll.; Green Republican: John Saylor and the Preservation of America's Wilderness, 2006, etc.) chartsthe sordid racial history of the Washington Redskins, the last NFL team to field black players.
The author focuses on the Redskins' innovative but controversial and preening owner, George Preston Marshall, the principal obstruction in the stream of racial equality that began to break through in the mid 20th century. Marshall, who made his fortune in the laundry business, bought into the NFL in 1932 and soon moved to Washington D.C., where his teams enjoyed swift and enduring success on the arm and acumen of quarterback Sammy Baugh. Smith notes that a few blacks played in the NFL in the '30s, but—principally due to the influence of Marshall, he avers—the league soon became all-white and stayed that way for more than a decade, when Paul Brown's eponymous team broke the mold and soared to glory with Marion Motley and Otto Graham. Noting the Browns' success, other teams soon followed, though Marshall remained intransigent. As the civil-rights movement gathered momentum, the pressure mounted on Marshall to relent, but it took the efforts of an unlikely hero, JFK's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, to find the financial leverage to do so. (He told Marshall he could not use a public stadium if he violated fair-hiring practices.) The author cannot conceal his disgust with Marshall, attaching to him just about every available synonym forracist, but Smith does celebrate the efforts of D.C. journalists, white (Shirley Povich) and black (Sam Lacy), to prod Marshall into the 20th century. He also notes the oddity of D.C.'s black fans swarming to the stadium to see the all-white team.
Thorough research and thick disdain form a corrosive substance that consumes the brazen racist Marshall.