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Late NFL owners Marshall, Culverhouse made Don Sterling look like an amateur

It would appear that current-yet-banned-for-life Clippers owner Donald Sterling has decided to pursue his $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA after all. This about-face on the initial about-face has all the tactical brilliance of the NHL expanding into Cuba.

Late Washington Redskins' owner George Preston Marshall refused to allow minority players until the Kennedy Administration threatened to cancel his lease at the newly opened D.C. (RFK) Stadium in 1962.

To be fair, Sterling was likely told he actually had a case against NBA commish Adam Silver, as well as the league owners’ decision to force a sale of the team. First Amendment arguments, property rights, and all sorts of other legalese will be tossed about in a case which will, before all is said and done, likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Naturally, this entire case can become twisted into a political spectacle between liberals, who are screaming for punishment of Sterling’s obvious racial insensitivity, and conservatives, who see this matter as the last straw of political correctness run amok.

Sterling, of course, is not innocent in any of this. While his conversation being recorded sets a scary precedent with regards to business vis-a-vis privacy rights, it was Sterling whose hubris was so intractable he believed making racially insensitive comments around anyone would not come back to bite him. Regardless of his advanced age and whatever his mental state may be, Sterling is intelligent enough to know that there are certain statement which are deadly "third rails," and should only be uttered in the absolute privacy of one's mind.

But let’s face facts: Sterling is far from the first sports figure to make such a boneheaded move. In fact, here are two other former owners who were, on some level, worse than Sterling, and both were in America’s most powerful sports league, the NFL. Both the late George Preston Marshall and late Hugh Culverhouse, in both action and attitude, made Sterling look like an amateur by comparison:

George Preston Marshall: Owner, Washington Redskins (1932-1969)

Marshall was known for years as the leading racist in the NFL. When other owners were signing African American players, Marshall was steadfast in his refusal to integrate, citing “southern appeal,” an excuse rendered moot when the Dallas Cowboys joined the league in 1960. It took the Kennedy Administration threatening to yank the team’s lease at newly-built D.C. (RFK) Stadium to finally force Marshall’s hand, and even then it wasn’t complete until a trade gave him a player willing to actually put on the pads for him. His original pick, Syracuse All-American Ernie Davis, said he would never play for “that S.O.B.”

Aftermath: Upon Marshall’s death in 1969, a $6 million dollar donation to his self-named foundation was given on the condition that none of that money ever be used for anything promoting the concept of racial integration. To this day, Marshall is considered one of the great racists in the history of pro sports.

Hugh Culverhouse: Owner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1974-1994)

Though nowhere near as overt in his racial bias as Marshall, Culverhouse’s treatment of the Buccaneers star quarterback Doug Williams, which led Williams to write the controversial book Quarterblack, puts him on the pedestal just below Marshall. Despite showing no reluctance to draft African-American players and sign minority free agents, Culverhouse was often described as having a "plantation owner mentality,” which led former NFL All-Pro Bo Jackson to refuse to sign with the franchise and instead pursue a pro baseball career with the Kansas City Royals in order to run out his draft rights time with the Bucs. Ironically, the late Lee Roy Selmon, the very first player ever drafted by Culverhouse, often spoke highly of the team’s owner in later years.

Aftermath: Culverhouse’s racial legacy is a mixed one. Williams accusations, along with Culverhouse’s inherent penchant for cheapness in operation of the franchise, left a stained legacy in the Tampa Bay area. Conversely, Culverhouse’s name graces the College of Commerce at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Today, Culverhouse’s attitude is now considered more a holdover of his “good ol’ boy” standing in the world, and less the product of overt racist views. On a somewhat humorous note, wife Joy’s discovery of her late husband’s numerous affairs led to a protracted legal battle with his estate’s trust, and Mrs. Culverhouse to say with regards to his numerous burial plots. "I don't know why he's got four plots cause there ain't nobody going to be there with him."


John E. Guzzardo isn't just an Examiner, he's also a published author. Click here to check out his first full-length novel, "A 38 Day Education," on Amazon.

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