RFK Stadium is known for its games, concerts and events, but the statues in front are altogether missed by many too busy to get inside or in too much of a hurry to beat the crowd afterwards.
The stadium was originally D.C. Stadium when opening in Oct. 1961 at a whopping cost of $24 million – triple its original budget. It was renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 1969, one year after Kennedy’s assassination.
I happened to co-author a book Hail to RFK still available on amazon.com that details the greatest players, coaches and games of the Redskins.
In the middle of the stadium’s main entrance are three monuments, two that shaped Washington sports.
The first game was a Redskins loss (what else?) and the owner was George Preston Marshall, who brought the team from Boston in 1937. There’s a large red granite marker on the right side of the entrance by the street with Marshall’s image.
A former RFK general manager wanted to move the monument in 2001 to make way for a concession stand. He tried to give the monument to Marshall’s family. A deal was made with Marshall’s hometown for a site, but nobody wanted to pay the $30,000 shipping costs. District politicians, well aware Marshall was forced to sign black players in return for the stadium’s use, don’t want it downtown, either. So the marker remains there indefinitely.
On the left side is a granite marker to Clark Calvin Griffith, who simply did everything there is to do in baseball before his son moved the team after 1960 to become the Minnesota Twins. Thus, Griffith isn’t a popular name in sports circles despite the American League placing an expansion team in Washington in 1961, which also left in 1971 to become the Texas Rangers. The Washington Nationals came from Montreal in 2005 and after three years at RFK now play at their own stadium a few miles away.
Anyway, Griffith pitched, managed and owned the Senators and even built his own stadium – Griffith Stadium – that is now the site of Howard University Hospital. The “Old Fox” died in 1955 and a monument was erected by the former stadium in 1956 and moved to RFK by 1965.
The seven-foot tall Georgia marble marker was dedicated by U.S. vice president Richard Nixon and cost $7,000, which was paid by the Home Plate Club of Washington. The memorial was designed by Lee Preston Claggett of Arlington-Claggett Memorial Co.
Finally, the centerpiece is a bronze bust of Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June 1968 just when it appeared he would be the Democratic presidential nominee and likely become president. The former Senator and U.S. Attorney General was honored as the stadium’s namesake. There was a brief movement in 2005 to sell naming rights when the Nationals arrived, but that was quickly beaten by then Sen. Ted Kennedy.
The bust was created by Robert Berks, who made hundred of pieces, including the John F. Kennedy bust in the Kennedy Performing Arts Center, the Albert Einstein statue on 22nd and Constitution Ave. and the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial in Lincoln Park. Berks died on May 17, 2011.