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Thom Loverro: The disputed history of 'Lone Star' Dietz, the inspiration for the Redskins' name

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,Thom Loverro

Been wondering why there's been so much attention about the name of the Washington Redskins franchise?

Well, it's the 80th anniversary of the name.

Yes, 80 years ago, owner George Preston Marshall, after one year in Boston as the Braves -- named for the Boston Braves baseball team -- changed the name of the team to Redskins. Marshall was moving the team out of Braves Field, where his team played home games in 1932, to the Red Sox's Fenway Park, and wanted to change the name to create his team's own identity in their new home.

Marshall found his identity at the Haskell Indian Institute coaching football: William "Lone Star" Dietz, a life worth noting 80 years later, if not celebrated -- and disputed.

Dietz was a teammate of Jim Thorpe's at Carlisle. He coached Washington State University to its lone Rose Bowl title. He acted in silent movies, became an accomplished artist and was friends with Knute Rockne and Pop Warner.

And, according to Tom Benjey, a Carlisle, Pa., publisher and author who wrote a book about Dietz called "Keep A-Goin'," he was the inspiration for the Redskins name that has kicked up a furor 80 years later.

"According to [Marshall's] granddaughter, in a Washington Post Op-Ed piece, she wrote her grandfather named the team in honor of Dietz," Benjey said.

He did so because Dietz was an American Indian. Or at least at the time he was believed to be an American Indian.

Dietz's Native American claim has been part of the dispute over the years about the Redskins' name. His story certainly leaves the door open for questions. But 80 years later, it's still a hell of a story.

According to Benjey, the closest valid claim that Dietz was American Indian came at a Spokane, Wash., trial in 1918 about his draft status, when Dietz claimed he was a "non-citizen Indian." His first trial ended in a hung jury, but he pleaded no contest in the second trial and served 30 days.

But during his initial trial, a woman who said she raised Dietz as a child testified that she had given birth to a stillborn baby, and her husband wrapped the body up and walked off into the woods. He came back days later with a Native American baby, and she testified that child was Lone Star Dietz, Benjey said.

Her husband claimed he had gotten an "Indian" woman pregnant and this was his son with her. "It sounds farfetched. ... He could have bought or stolen the baby," Benjey said. "The possibilities are endless."

As far as calls to change the Redskins franchise name, Benjey is not a fan of the controversy. "My personal view is that there are so many ways American Indians are mistreated, this is a distraction from important issues that need major help," he said. "I don't think it is helping anyone one way or another."

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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