City Paper is not for tourists
For the black and white and read all over print edition of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about the 1962 City Title game and riot. It’s among the more amazing and ugly chapters in D.C.’s athletic and anthropological histories. Pick up a copy. Read the story. Love thy brother.
Essentially, at the end of the Thanksgiving Day game between Eastern and St. John’s, respectively the city’s premier public school and Catholic school football programs back then, a mob of black Eastern fans gave a beat-down to the white St. John’s faithful.
There were attempts in the media to downplay the ugliness that took place among and before a record D.C. Stadium crowd of 50,033, perhaps out of civic embarrassment.
Bob Addie, an influential Washington Post sports columnist, was among the downplayers.
“It must be remembered that some of the college rallies have been more violent,” Addie wrote in his story that ran the day after the game, while as many as 500 game attendees were still nursing their wounds from the conflagration. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., on the eve of a Yale game.” (Coincidentally or not, the Washington Post was the main sponsor of the City Title game.)
But that didn’t keep Congress from getting involved and forming a committee to investigate the donnybrook.
The committee compiled a report based on personal interviews with folks at the game and the police reports of 242 MPD officers involved. They ultimately placed a lot of blame on a white guy, the losing Eastern coach, Dick Mentzer, who the committee accused of charging up the crowd by animatedly complaining to referees during the waning moments of the blowout.
The investigation’s summary indicates that a lot of locals felt economic disparity and racial inequality in the county and its capital contributed to the melee more than Mentzer’s animation: “Black leaders” said the riot “reflects ominous overtones and mirrors the challenge of much of America’s unfinished business – full participation in all aspects of community life and the exercising of total responsibility in community affairs.”
But also in that summary the investigators, who “found no link with the uprising to the Black Muslim movement,” wouldn’t pin all the violence on race.
“Whether there is a gulf of hatred between whites and Negroes in the Nation’s Capital certainly cannot be judged on the basis of the riot,” reads the report. “The hoodlums who went on rampage at the stadium would have attacked supporters of any victorious team, including a predominantly Negro one.”
The committee also told the DC Public Schools to think hard about whether it was worth keeping the City Title game alive, given what had happened.
If the game was continued in future years, the committee recommended, some changes should be made, such as “No team will be permitted to participate in two consecutive years in the championship game” and “Head coaches will be rotated between public schools on an equitable and systematic basis so that dynasty-building will be discouraged.”
Rather than adopt such silliness, the City Title game was discontinued.