August 3, 2014
Mr. Smith Doesn't Come to Washington
The Pro Football Chronicle, Dan Daly & Bob O'Donnell (1990)
Redskins owner George Preston Marshall let a Washington sportswriter draft a player for him in 1952. The writer was Mo Siegel, who was coveing the team for the Washington Post. The player was Flavious Smith, an end from Tennessee Tech.
You won't find Smith on the team's list of draftees from '52. Or the league's, for that matter. He somehow disappeared between the time commissioner Bert Bell announced his selection and the end of the draft. Therein lies the mystery of an otherwise hilarious story.
Siegel ... says he pestered Marshall into letting him make the pick on the train ride to New York, where the draft was taking place.
"Marshall's theory was writers didn't always know as much football as they should," Siegel says. "I told him, 'Give me a pick in a later round, and we'll see what I can do.' He didn't have anything to lose, anyway. It was very rare that a player drafted in the later rounds ever made a team in those days."
Sure enough, Marshall approached Siegel after the early rounds were done and told him to come up with the name of a player. Siegel did, and as he recalls the Redskins selected that player - Flavious Smith - somewhere between the 15th and 20th rounds.
"Congratulations," Siegel remembers Marshall saying, "you've just become the first sportswriter to draft a player."
"Congratulations, George," Siegel replied, "you've just integrated the Redskins."
What a stunt. Marshall had a strict whites-only policy on the Redskins. Siegel hadn't known whom to draft and had turned to the Chicago Tribune's Ed Prell for help. It was Prell who'd given him Smith's name and the information that he was black.
"I'm quite sure he [Marshall] thought I was kidding," Siegel says. "I'd been kibitzing with him a lot. But then he tells me the next day that he'd traded Smith, and I'm pretty sure he said to Green Bay."
It's unclear what Marshall did with Smith, but he didn't trade him. The transaction doesn't show up in the Redskins' records or in press accounts of the draft. According to the Associated Press' team-by-team and round-by-round selections, no player named Flavious Smith was drafted in 1952. Yet Siegel was present when Bell announced the pick for the Redskins. What gives?
We're not certain, but it isn't hard to imagine Marshall and Bell "fixing" the situation behind the scenes. The Redskins could easily have relinquished their rights to Smith and been given another pick later in the draft. No one was paying much attention then, anyway.
Smith, an all-Ohio Valley Conference end as a senior, eventually signed with the Rams as a free agent. "I never heard anything about the Redskins or the draft," he says. "Two or three tems contacted me about trying out with them. I went with the Rams ..."
The Rams stashed him on a reserve list in 1952, paying him a small amount to play for a semipro team. He was traded to Pittsburgh in '53 and released during training camp. He went into teaching and coaching and eventually completed his Ph.D. In 1962 he returned to Tennessee Tech, where he's now chairman of the health and physical education department.
He chuckles at the suggestion he might have become the player who integrated the Tennessee Tech. Smith, you see, is white.