D.C. NFL team’s nickname has a Wisconsin connection

Well it’s football season again. In the NFL game, coverage of domestic abuse and child abuse has been the off field focus, while controversy surrounding the franchise in Washington D.C. is still percolating. And believe it or not, there’s a Wisconsin connection to the latter. This week the team suffered a humiliating loss at the hands of the New York Giants, and some D.C. fans contended they were humiliated at the hands of Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart.

Washington owner Daniel Snyder has been insisting all along that the offensive nickname is intended as an honorific. And that honor was originally bestowed on a Native American man from Wisconsin. Or not.

The Wisconsin connection is one of those things that, thanks to the Internet, I stumbled across more or less by accident, when I came across Washington Post writer Richard Leiby’s story of Lone Star Dietz. Dietz was a Rice Lake native, football star and eponymous source of the team name back when it was located in Boston. And earlier this month, ESPN‘s John Barr interviewed Snyder, who either remains sincerely convinced of the truth of Dietz’s invented self or finds it convenient to say he does.

The best evidence indicates that William Henry Dietz was the child of German-American parents and was not Native American, but as Leiby details, he did an amazing job of marketing himself as just that. His tantalizingly vague biography in the Rice Lake Sports Hall of Fame notes, “during the first half of the 20th century, a week seldom went by when Lone Star’s name didn’t appear in the nation’s newspapers.”

Native or not, Dietz provided a quote that could fit seamlessly into the current debate. “The Indian has been pictured too much as a thing of the white man’s imagination.”

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