NFL

How a Washington Post Sportswriter Nearly Integrated the Washington Redskins

If George Preston Marshall had his way, the Washington Redskins would never integrate.

The founder of the Redskins and the man who moved them to Washington D.C., Preston Marshall was a visionary who helped football evolve on the field. But off the field, Preston Marshall tainted his own legacy when he vowed he would never employ a Black player.

Preston Marshall nearly unintentionally welcomed a Black player to the Washington Redskins in the 1950s, though, by way of a local sportswriter. This is Flavious Smith’s story.

The Washington Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate

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The franchise now known as the Washington Football Team has a complicated history with race that goes beyond their former Redskins moniker.

George Preston Marshall moved the NFL’s Boston Braves — no relation to the baseball team that played in Boston at the same time, also they both used the same field — to Washington in 1937.

They’d become the Boston Redskins in 1933 and kept their name upon moving to Washington. Marshall is credited with allowing the forward pass and moving the goalposts to encourage field goals.

Marshall also embraced balanced schedules and television. All of those should have sealed his legacy as a massive figure in NFL history.

Then, there’s the other and nastier side of Marshall. He supported racial segregation and refused to add Black players to his team until the federal government intervened.

If Marshall didn’t integrate the Redskins in 1962, the government wouldn’t let the team play at D.C. Stadium (now known as RFK Stadium).

A sportswriter nearly integrated the Washington Redskins

A sportswriter from the Washington Post nearly integrated the Redskins in the 1950s.
A sportswriter from the Washington Post nearly integrated the Redskins in the 1950s. | Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

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The Redskins added their first Black player, running back Bobby Mitchell, in 1962. Washington actually drafted Syracuse star Jim Brown that year but traded him to Cleveland for Mitchell when Brown refused to play for the Redskins.

The Redskins almost integrated a decade prior. During the 1952 NFL draft, Marshall allowed Washington Post sportswriter Mo Siegel to make a late-round pick.

Marshall didn’t think highly of the media’s football analysis and he allowed Seigel to prove him wrong.

A source tipped Siegel off to Tennessee Tech tight end Flavious Smith, who evidently was Black. Seigel provided Marshall with the name and the Redskins drafted Smith.

What happened next, according to a story Siegel wrote in the Pro Football Chronicles anthology, is an unbelievable exchange between the two.

“Congratulations. You have just become the first sportswriter ever to draft a player,” Siegel recalled Marshall saying.

“And congratulations to you, George. You have just integrated the Washington Redskins!”

The joke was on both of them. Flavious Smith was white.

Whatever happened to Flavious Smith?

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Not yet realizing Flavious Smith was a white man, George Preston Marshall panicked and traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh then traded him to the Los Angeles Rams in a three-team deal.

Although Smith spent a training camp with the Rams, he didn’t make the roster and soon joined the army. According to Trib Live, Smith spent time with the 3rd Armored Division in Frankfurt, Germany, and later became a teacher.

He retired in 1996 after 34 years as a health and physical fitness professor. Smith’s son, Flavious Jr., was also reportedly a late-round NFL pick but instead went to law school.

In the end, George Preston Marshall was right about one thing: The local media that covered the Redskins may not have been as tuned-in as they thought.