RFK Stadium was almost LBJ Stadium
Stewart L. Udall, secretary of the interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and famed protector of the environment, died last week. That led a reader to point out something I never knew: that without Udall, RFK Stadium very likely would have become LBJ Stadium. Which just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Udall, as The Post's obituary pointed out, was an advocate of civil rights, a supporter of home rule for D.C., and a major force behind the integration of the Redskins:
The Redskins -- the last team in any major professional sport to integrate -- were set to begin playing in a new stadium (which Mr. Udall later named for Robert F. Kennedy) that sat on land owned by the National Park Service. In March 1961, Mr. Udall sent a sharply worded letter to Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, warning him that he was in danger of criminal prosecution if the team violated anti-discrimination laws. In 1962, Bobby Mitchell became the first black player to take the field for the Redskins.
Udall, a Kennedy appointee who was kept on after JFK's assassination, had "a testy relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson," as The Post's obit also noted. Capitol Hill resident, author and future Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol wrote a book on the decade-long feud between LBJ and RFK, and when he discussed that feud on C-SPAN's Booknotes in the late '90s, D.C.'s stadium became part of the discussion.
Since this is all new to me, I'll quote from the transcript.
"It had been called prior to that point D.C. Stadium, and there had been some talk in 1968 about naming it after someone, and Johnson wanted it named after himself. He thought it would appropriately be named LBJ Stadium.
"But a group of Kennedy aides in the Interior Department under Stewart Udall -- who was John Kennedy's appointment as secretary of interior and stayed on through the Johnson administration but was very close to the Kennedys -- this plot was crafted under his supervision. It was not originally his idea, but he was able to implement it, because the stadium was built on National Park [Service] land: the Anacostia Park.
"And so the secretary of the interior, with a quick dash of his pen, could rename the stadium without having to ask the president's permission. And so they conspired to do this, and they also conspired to do it on the very last day of the Johnson presidency so that the president could not countermand the order. So Udall went ahead and did this. And Johnson was, of course, outraged, but there was nothing he could do. It had already been announced and leaked to the press."
And so, absent that Udall-executed plot, all the great Redskins and D.C. United and Senators and Nationals memories, the NFC Championship games and MLS Cups, the World Cup games and Olympic soccer festivals, the departure of baseball and the arrival of baseball, the Eagle Bank Bowls and the scenes of me dropping pumpkins off the upper concourse with Alecko Eskandarian, the naked ESPN The Magazine photo shoots and the HFStivals, would have happened not at RFK but at LBJ. Almost impossible to imagine, right?
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