Did Famed Football Player Dixie Dean Get His Name Because of the Color of His Skin?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: William Dean’s nickname “Dixie” came from his dark skin.

William “Dixie” Dean was one of the most prolific goal scorers in English League history, with an astounding 379 goals in 438 English League games from 1923-1939, with the vast majority of them coming for Everton, where Dean spent just shy of 400 games.

If you take a look at Dean, you might notice that his complexion is fairly dark…

It is due to his dark complexion and his hair that people took to calling him “Dixie,” as he looked (according to many English folks at the time, who likely did not know any better) like an African-American from the Southern United States.

It’s a pretty darn racist nickname, and Dean haaaaaated it.

However, while it IS clear that he WAS known as “Dixie” because for the fairly racist reason that he reminded people of Southern American blacks, the interesting thing is that he did not get the name the way you would think. That is, no one looked at him and said, “Hey, let’s call him Dixie, because he looks like a black guy from the American South!”

No, what actually happened was that SOMEone, a fan, an announcer, SOMEone misunderstood his ACTUAL nickname, which he used early in his career while playing for his local team, the Tranmere Rovers. That nickname was “Digsy.”

Gilbert Upton was perhaps the first historian to discover Dean’s original nickname (in his history of the Tranmere Rovers – Dixie Dean of Tranmere Rovers, 1923-1925), but since then, a number of histories have cited past acquaintances of Dean’s who have backed up Upton’s claim (all they frequently differ on WHY the name “Digsy” was chosen exactly – which is fair enough, as we’re talking about people recalling minor details from the 1910s…).

But someone heard the name “Digsy” at one point and clearly thought it was “Dixie,” and, because of the whole, “Hey, he looks like a black guy from the Southern US!” thing, the name stuck.

So not only was it a pretty racist nickname, but it wasn’t even the RIGHT NICKNAME!

Pretty darn funny.

The legend is…

STATUS: False Enough for a False

Thanks a lot to Gilbert Upton for being the first to “discover” Dean’s first nickname!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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