I realize that this subject seems to be the topic that never dies, but with a break in NFL news until the combine, this subject is worth addressing given the latest event in DC yesterday:
The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian is holding its first symposium on the topic Thursday. A new version of an old lawsuit challenging the trademark has a court hearing in March. D.C. Mayor Vince Gray (D) recently suggested the team would have to change its name if it ever wished to resume playing games in the city.
On my commute to work today, several things came clear regarding the "Redskins" name:
- It's the organization we root for and bond with, not a picture or mascot name: Ken and I have had the great privilege of spending a few years at Redskins Park covering the team during training camps and minicamps. We've also attended the endless community service projects that this team does for the DC area. When I see Lorenzo Alexander interacting with the DC area monthly, Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon spending time with cancer patients, London Fletcher taking kids to visit the Capitol, the Hogettes, Art Monk and Ken Harvey doing their fundraisers, does the "Redskins" name mean anything? No. It's the many levels of the organization that make me proud. The mascot has nothing to do with that. If RGIII scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLVIII wearing burgundy and gold with a "W" on his helmet instead of the Redskins, would it matter then? Of course not, we have a Super Bowl parade to get ready for.
- Washington Bullets: After going through the pain of losing the Bullets name to the Wizards, I will tell anyone, a Redskins name change will hurt less. I challenge anyone to name a better mascot in any sport than the Bullets. The name was changed in 1997 due to the high violence rate in D.C. and the assassination of Abe Pollin's longtime friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It probably wouldn't have meant much to Abe at the time, but bullets are used every day by our police force and military to keep our country safe when democracy does not work. Either way, after enduring that name change, the Redskins to Warriors or something of the sort will be easy for me (see #1 above).
- George Preston Marshall: The guy that gave the Redskins their nickname was the same owner who was last to integrate African Americans into his team. That's downright embarrassing and will always be a black eye on our organization. It's hard for me to defend a nickname when the original Redskins owner has a history of racism. From a NY Times 2011 article, "As his second head coach, Marshall hired William "Lone Star" Dietz, a journeyman coach at the collegiate level whose mother was most likely a Sioux. It was in "honor" of Dietz, who coached the team for just two seasons and who at Marshall's urging willingly put on war paint and Indian feathers before home games, that Marshall changed the team's name to the Redskins. " Anything that distances our franchise from the beliefs of this guy I'm OK with.
- "Redskins" does offend people: Via that same NY Times article, "In 1992, the Native American writer and activist Suzan Harjo, who had moved to Washington, D.C., in the 1970s, became the lead plaintiff in a case against the Redskins organization joined by six other Native Americans, including the writer Vine Deloria Jr." A common defense we hear as Redskins fans is "But there are Native Americans that don't find the name offensive." Well, that's great, but when those Indians are nameless while well-known, Native Americans claim it is racist, then that does carry water. Let's be real here. Even Merriam-Webster defines "redskins" as usually offensive: AMERICAN INDIAN. Let's put this a different way. If Washington was just awarded a NFL franchise and the team announced "Redskins" was the leading option, there would no doubt be outrage everywhere. So, because it was inherited from the past it's OK?
It did bother me to hear that the Redskins did not have anyone present at the symposium yesterday. Presence at the event at least shows one's willingness to hear their side of the story. Chris Gordon from NBC4 news called me yesterday to do an interview and get a Redskins' fans site opinion on the subject. I didn't want to speak because I don't have all the facts. It would be extremely naïve to take a stance when I have not seen first-hand who and at what level exactly Native Americans are offended. From reading the media's tweets at the Symposium yesterday, clearly there are many (and I don't just mean the gringos).
I know we want to hold onto our Redskins childhood and everything we know as normal, but the name change will eventually come even if the Redskins win the trademark case against them. Take a look around. We live in a world where people can sue each other for anything, for example, this person who sued Universal Studios $15,000 for having a haunted house too scary. Or the woman who sued a meteorologist for getting the weather forecast wrong. This is a much grander scale and a much more demeaning subject. If I was Dan Snyder, I would likely make a BCS-type announcement that the Redskins will be changing their name in a future year, for example 2015. That allows the organization and fans time to transition their name and fight song while also giving the Native Americans what they want.
After all, it's the players and organization that matter, not the mascot. The fans will never leave our team. Twenty years from now Dan Snyder would be praised for this decision and D.C. will be just as happy rooting for their team as they are now (see #1).