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Fact Checking WaPOST’s Fact Checker on ‘RedskinsFacts.com’

Only in Washington and only for the Redskins is a business fighting a public relations onslaught criticized for hiring a p.r. firm to fund a web site to tell its side of the story.

The Washington POST’s Fact Checker took aim at RedskinsFacts.com. The site’s very name is an invitation to crawl under the covers of its claims. However, Fact Checker’s expertise in demystifying political claims falls short when it comes to the Redskins.

Regular readers of Redskins Hog Heaven know that we proclaim the name and defend its use by Washington’s ‘football team.’ We like what Redskins Facts is doing even as we criticize both the site and Fact Checker for telling an incomplete story.

Fact Checker challenged Redskins Facts on three points:

  • A Smithsonian Institution linguist concluded that the actual origin of the word is “entirely benign,” created by Native Americans, and was used as “an inclusive expression of solidarity.”
  •  Prominent Indian leaders of the 19th century—such as Sitting Bull, French Crow and Tecumseh–referred to themselves as “Red men” or “Red-skins.”
  • “On the inaugural Redskins team in 1933, four players and then-head coach William Henry ‘Lone Star’ Dietz identified themselves as Native Americans.”

Washington’s leading newspaper does not tell Washington’s football team’s side of the story without casting doubt on the sincerity of the Redskins’ argument. Redskins Facts points to the work of Smithsonian linguist Ives Goddard’s research in the origin of the word “redskin.” The team is making the point that slurs do not originate with the slurred.

Foul, cries Fact Checker. Redskins Facts “artfully tries to skate past the change in how ‘redskins’ was used and perceived.” Fact checker points to a 2013 NPR report on that evolution as a proof point, although just why the Redskins should do that runs against the purpose of Redskins Facts.

Fact Checker commits the same sin. It introduced the NPR story as if it were an expose. It might have looked at the U.S. Court record to balance the story.

Use of the word “redskin” was extinct when The Redskins registered the team name as a trademark. That was a finding by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in a 2003 U.S. District Court ruling when she wrote that,

“…since the-mid-1960’s to the present, the term ‘redskin(s)’ appears often only as a reference for the professional football club known as the Washington Redskins, that the term has not been used to refer to Native Americans during this time frame, and that the words ‘Native American,’ ‘Indian,’ and ‘American Indian’ have been used as a reference for Native Americans during this time frame.”

That timeline reflects the personal experience of team owner Daniel Snyder and the team’s millions of fans. In 52 years of following the team (Dad got the season tickets in 1962 to see Bobby Mitchell play.), I have only heard the word “Redskins” (Capital R, plural) applied to the team, never to real people.

If fans wish to insult a Native American person, “redskin” is the last word we would think to use, so revered is it in these parts.

Context is everything in this discussion. If the word evolved in one fashion in the late 19th Century, it evolved to something completely different in the 20th Century. Fact Checker omitted it and more.

Read the full text of Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling here.

The strange case of Lone Star Dietz

Fact Checker notes that Redskins Facts does not repeat The Redskins’ longstanding claim that the team was named in honor of the second coach in franchise history, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz.

Hog Heaven has been critical of the team for clinging to that story as the sole reason for the team name.

A confluence of reasons came together for George Preston Marshall to name the team “The Redskins.” Dietz was only part of it.

Fact Checker repeats stories disparaging Dietz that are pushed by people with an ax to grind against the team.

“The other problem with Dietz is that, it turns out, he was likely an imposter [sic]—who even went to prison for trying to dodge (World War I) military service by falsely registering as an Indian.  So the Web site neatly sidesteps that messy problem by simply saying that he ‘identified’ himself as a Native American.”

Dietz indeed faced that charge. Fact Checker omits that the jury did not agree on conviction. They voted 8-4 for acquittal, perhaps because officers of the U.S. Marine Corps testified that they wrote to the Draft Board requesting an exemption for Dietz who was then coaching the Marine Corps football team in Mare Island in 1918. The Marines saw publicity about the team and its famous coach as an aid to war time recruitment.

Dietz accepted the Marine Corps job for $300 per month, much less than his deal to coach Washington State in 1916. Washington State College (now University) suspended football for the duration of the war.

Dietz’ biographer Tom Benjey wrote that the Marines offered him training in preparation for Officer Candidate School as part of the deal. Fact Checker did not share these details when it “exposed” Dietz.

Dietz led the Marine Corps team to the Rose Bowl after the 1918 season. It was his second appearance there. He led Washington State to its only Rose Bowl win following the 1916 season.

Dietz faced a second trial, but on a different charge. The government no longer charged Dietz as a white passing for an Indian, but charged that he was a U.S. citizen Indian (at a time when Indians were not citizens) who avoided the Draft.

Dietz was broke after the failure of a Hollywood business venture. He could not afford to mount a second defense. Most critically, he could not afford to bring the Marine officers from California back to Washington to testify again on his behalf.

He was not “convicted” as Fact Checker erroneously states. He pleaded no contest to the second charge and sentenced to 30 days in the county jail.

At a time when others convicted of evading the Great War were sentenced for 20 years in a federal penitentiary, Dietz’ sentence was exceptionally light. Benjey writes, and Hog Heaven agrees, that the sentence reflected the judge’s skepticism of the government’s case.

Dietz never gave up his claim of Indian ancestry.  Nor did newspapers, including publications in Washington and Oregon that covered the trials, cease to describe him as an Indian coach.

In 1929, Knute Rockne endorsed Dietz to become head football coach of the Haskell Indian School in Kansas (team name: Indians). Rockne’s letter of recommendation had this to say about Dietz:

“I consider him one of the greatest coaches in the game and a victim of circumstances. Some embittered crank up in Spokane has persecuted Bill, which I think is very unchristian, and his troubles at Washington State can be laid to this individual.”

The Redskins hired him in 1933. Four or six (accounts vary) of his Native American players at Haskell followed him to the Braves/Redskins. The Boston papers described Dietz as an Indian coach when they announced his hire. The Redskins are the only NFL franchise to hire a mixed-race Native American as head coach.

Benjey suspects that Dietz had a hand in the design of the Redskins’ 1933 uniforms. It’s color scheme was similar to that worn by the Carlisle Indians football team years earlier when Dietz was a player, assistant coach under Pop Warner and art instructor. Carlisle’s colors were red and old gold. Read more about Dietz’ link to the Redskins controversy here.

Dietz’ overall college coaching record was 96-62-8.  He was 1-1 in his two Rose Bowl appearances. His NFL record was 11-11 with the Redskins in the 1933-34 seasons. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

We see Fact Checker as guilty of the same selective omissions as they accuse Redskins Facts to be. Their omissions present a different story than is the real case. For that, we award Fact Checker the same Three Pinocchio rating they gave RedskinsFacts.com.



Image Credit: Janine Vandenberg

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.