Washington defensive lineman Jonathan Allen gave out doughnuts to sick kids in D.C. today. The treats came with a photo of him alongside the words “We Hail!” Allen probably should’ve checked with his boss.
“We Hail” was the slogan the team’s marketing staff came up with to help sell tickets this season. Thom Loverro of the Washington Times reported on Sunday that owner Dan Snyder decided the slogan “was too close to ‘Sieg Heil!’” and killed off the campaign.
The Times’ tale hinted that use of the Nazi Party’s favorite chant was among the reasons Snyder fired chief operating officer Brian Lafemina last month. Dumping Lafemina before he’d finished even his first year on the job stunned the Skins’ already turnover-familiar fan base and kicked the juggernaut #firebruceallen movement into its highest gear.
But there are still signs of the allegedly hate-speech-ish marketing slogan despite Snyder’s reported disapproval and the end of Lafemina’s tenure with the team: “We Hail!” was visible in a photo of Jamison Crowder the team tweeted out last week to promote an appearance at a downtown health fair. And, again, it’s literally the icing on the cakes Allen brought with him to Children’s National.
Snyder’s purported rationale for ditching the campaign brings up other whiffs of Hitler in the Skins realm. “We Hail!” was a play on the Skins’ fight song, “Hail to the Redskins”; “Sieg Heil!”, meanwhile, translates directly to English as “Hail victory!” That exact phrase got its own line in the song’s original chorus: “Hail to the Redskins/Hail victory/Braves on the warpath/Fight for old Dixie!”
The lyrics of “Hail to the Redskins” are credited to Corinne Griffin, the wife of racist Skins founder George Preston Marshall. There’s no proof that the theme song’s nod to der Führer was intentional. But given Marshall’s promotional bent, dark soul, and the timing of the song’s birth—it was first played at a Skins game in 1938—it sure seems a possibility. (Marshall went to Germany in the late 1920s with actress Louise Brooks, his girlfriend prior to marrying Griffin, and Brooks became a star as a result of their trip.)
Marshall’s team was the last NFL squad to racially integrate. And when the NAACP protested the team’s racist policies by marching on game days during the 1961 season outside D.C. Stadium, his team’s then-new home, members of the American Nazi party showed up to support the owner’s campaign to keep the roster all-white.
Marshall only added black players under pressure from the federal government. Stewart Udall, secretary of interior under John F. Kennedy, forced Marshall to integrate the team in 1962, under the threat of losing use of federal lands on which the Skins stadium sat. Udall told me in a 2002 interview that in his dealings with Marshall, the owner didn’t bother trying to hide that he was an anti-Semite and racist. “The guy hated everybody but the whores,” Udall said.
Griffin died in 1979, Marshall in 1969. The ending to the fight song’s chorus was changed from “Fight for old Dixie!” to “Fight for Old D.C.!” through the years because of its racial connotations.
But “Hail victory!” remains.
The phrase has been recognized for its hatefulness through the years. “Hail Victory” is the title of the final album by the British band Skrewdriver, known in the 1980s for its white-power agenda and skinhead-friendly fanbase. And if the Skins ever play in Germany, fans might want to refrain from singing the fight song in the local tongue: A concert in the town of Ostritz was canceled just last month by authorities because of fans’ “sieg heil” chants.
Snyder has no problem promoting the tune. “Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game,” he wrote in a 2013 letter published in the Washington Post defending the team’s racist name.
And during an ESPN interview about the team’s racist name that aired on Outside the Lines, Snyder said the song was sung “only when we score” in tribute to Native Americans, and then began reciting the chorus.
During his on-camera recital, however, Snyder skipped the “Hail victory!” line, and no other.
Disclosure: Dan Snyder once sued the author for writing mean things about him.