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How did the ‘Redskins’ get their name, anyway? It started in Boston

The NFL team eventually moved to Washington, D.C., in 1937, leaving the city behind.

The Boston Redskins played at Fenway Park against the New York Giants in 1933.Boston Public Library/The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl

The Washington Redskins officially announced last week that the team would stop using its Native American logo and moniker in favor of a yet-to-be-determined symbol and title, a move that followed years of condemnation and calls for the franchise to part ways with its controversial branding due to its racist connotations.

But how did the the team get its name in the first place?

It all started in Boston, more than eight decades ago.

In 1932, George Preston Marshall, owner of a laundry chain in Washington, D.C., became part owner of what was then known as the Boston Braves, a National Football League team with the same name as the city’s second baseball team at the time.


A year later, Marshall changed the name from the Braves to the Redskins, when he moved the team from Braves Field to a new location in the city.

“Marshall moved across town to Fenway Park and he wanted to have a kinship with the Boston Red Sox,” Mike Richman, a Redskins historian, said in a short clip about the team’s history on the franchise’s website. “And as well, he wanted to maintain the Native American theme that he had with the Braves, so he chose the Redskins.”

“FOOTBALL BRAVES BECOME REDSKINS,” read a 1933 Globe headline about the switch. The article that accompanied the announcement said going from the Braves to the Redskins was “rather appropriate,” since the team had also “signed up a number of Indian players.”

According to ESPN, the team has long contended it was named in honor of Marshall’s head coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, who was believed to be Native American.

But the Associated Press reported in 1933 that Marshall said the change was “absolutely necessary” because “so much confusion has been caused by our football team wearing the same name as the Boston National League baseball club.”


“The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins,” he reportedly said.

Richard Johnson, curator of the TD Garden’s Sports Museum, once told the Globe that the move from Braves Field was actually more of a push than a conscious swap.

“Marshall, by all accounts, was a real pain,” Johnson said. “His partners bailed on him after that first year, and he was asked to leave. It would make no sense to leave [Braves Field] of his own volition. It wouldn’t pay to move.”

Richman — the unofficial historian and author of three books about the team — said in a telephone interview that the move also likely had to do with problems with the lease at Braves Field.

According to a Globe article from 2006, in all, the team had “five turbulent seasons” here, which were described as somewhat forgettable and at times disappointing.

In their final season in Boston, the Redskins earned a spot in the championship against the Green Bay Packers after snuffing out the Pirates in a 30-0 game on Nov. 29 and then beating the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds about a week later.

But Marshall requested to have the championship game moved out of Boston, and instead played in New York, an apparent dig at a city that he felt didn’t always give him adequate coverage or the attention he’d desired. (Marshall maintained he did it for the players’ sake, and because of Boston’s fickle weather).


“You know how it is in Boston this time of year,” he said, later adding, “We certainly don’t owe Boston much after the shabby treatment we’ve received.”

Richman noted that the entire stretch of the team’s time in Boston received scant media coverage and often attracted small crowds.

“Boston being a college town, it was all of the college teams that were getting the really big coverage,” he said. “To spite the Boston fans, he had the game played in the Polo Grounds in New York, which drew a pretty good crowd.”

In the end, the team lost the championship game against the Packers, 21-6, and then, just a few days later, the Redskins were packing up.

In December 1936, Marshall announced he was moving the team to Washington for the following season, leaving the area in a “huff,” according to a Globe story from 2013 that detailed the team’s journey from New England to the nation’s capital.

It was evident that Marshall — the last NFL owner to include a Black player on his roster — had felt that Boston fans and newspapers snubbed his team from the get-go, a resentment he seemed to hold onto long after he fled the area with his ball in hand.


“I moved my team to Washington because the Boston papers gave girls’ field hockey more space than the Redskins,” Marshall said in 1953, a claim that the Globe at the time said was one of Marshall’s favorite “quips” about leaving.

And perhaps Marshall, who died in 1969, wasn’t entirely wrong. After he made the announcement that the team would be relocating, according to Globe archives, there was little note of their departure from sportswriters of that era.

“...Save for a few paragraphs deep into the paper.”

The 1933 Boston Redskins.Pro Football Hall of Fame/The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl

Kevin Paul Dupont of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.