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Why the "Redskins" Matter

Many people have opinions on the Redskins name. Unlike many journalists, I have something new to contribute to this dialogue.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Countless journalists have recently written articles about the “obvious” racist nature of the Washington Redskins nickname. Many of these articles argue the same points; George Preston Marshall was a racist, the name offends people, and that a new team name is needed. While all these articles address the issue, they all fail to analyze the issue from one important point of view: the fan.

I am a younger Redskins fan. I am unable to remember the glory days of the 80’s and early 90’s. I was 8 months old when they won their last Super Bowl. I was a proud fan when there was not much to be proud of. I relied on the proud history of the Redskins franchise to get through the hard times. My Sonny Jurgensen jersey became my prized possession. I wore the Sonny jersey every Monday, after a win or loss, when I went to my classes at the University of Maryland.

After the week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 season, I was walking near route 1 to grab an early dinner. To my surprise, a man in a UPS uniform stopped me and said with total surprise:

“You know who Sonny Jurgensen is?”

We had a lovely conversation about Sonny’s abilities as a passer and about how Don Shula totally sucks (Some things can never be forgotten, even if you don’t remember them). It was after this conversation I realized how important the name of the “Redskins” is to history.

Some journalists think this is a clear-cut issue with a simple answer: change the name.

But taking away the “Redskins” would take a part of the fan’s identity away. The Redskins are beloved by the football fans of D.C. The Redskins are so beloved that a simple jersey can start a conversation between two people who have never met before. In the DMV, the word “redskins” has more history than that of being a racial slur. The Redskins are a part of the area’s identity. The “Redskins” (proper) are the beloved football team with 5 NFL championships and many outstanding players in the Hall of Fame.

The Redskins are Sonny Jurgensen, one of the NFL’s finest passers ever in an era that was not pass friendly. He is one of the voices of Redskins games and the only number 9 this franchise will ever have.

The Redskins are Bobby Mitchell, whose ability as a brilliant pass catcher helped revolutionize NFL offenses. He was the first African American to play for the franchise after the team was de-segregated. He played in the nations capitol when the nation struggled with racism and segregation. He dealt with racism his entire career. As a player and scout, he paved the way for the next generation of African American football players and football minds.

The Redskins are Jerry Smith, the All-Pro Tight end that set the touchdown record for Tight ends. This record stood for years after his retirement. He was the first former professional athlete to die of AIDS. He made his living in a culture that is unkind to homosexuals. Whether any Hall of Fame voter will admit this or not, his homosexuality has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is something that all Redskins fans, no matter how they feel about homosexuality, can agree is wrong.

The Redskins are Joe Theismann, the Super Bowl winning Quarterback who started as a punt returner on the team. Joe suffered a devastating leg injury in front of our eyes. This play-gone-wrong is burned into the mind of every Redskins fan. He went on to be one of the voices of football as a commentator, but the fans will always wonder what else he could have done as a player.

The Redskins are John Riggins, “The Diesel” and the one-man show that lives to entertain. He was once a man who struggled to find his place in the NFL. On a 4th and 1 play in Super Bowl XVII, he ran his way to victory and into our hearts. Forever.

The Redskins are Darrel Green, the “Ageless Wonder,” “itty bitty guy,” and one of the fastest people to ever play in the NFL. He played Cornerback for 20 years in the NFL and is one of the greatest shut down corners of all time. He became a pillar of the D.C. community after football, working with many local charity organizations.

The Redskins are the Hogs, the greatest group of offensive lineman in NFL history. Jeff Bostic, Russ Grim, Mark May, Joe Jacoby, and Joe Stark were the building blocks of the 4 Super Bowl appearances and 3 victories of the team within a 10-year period. They dominated the line of scrimmage and protected many Redskins greats, while building a dynasty.

The Redskins are Doug Williams, the first and only African American Quarterback to win a Super Bowl. His spectacular efforts in Super Bowl XXII broke the racial stereotypes about an African American’s ability to play Quarterback in the NFL. When written about in newspapers, Doug was no longer referred to as the “black” Quarterback. He referred to as the Quarterback of the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins are Sean Taylor, the hard-hitting safety who dazzled the fanbase with his play. He tragically passed away before his time. His daughter will never get to meet her father. His story is heartbreaking. The void left in our hearts that is left can never be filled. I personally, will never forget him. The number 21 may remind other football fans of other great players, but 21 will always be Sean Taylor to me.

The Redskins are Robert Griffin III, the man who every Redskins fan was ready to be patient with. We were ready to commit to him as a franchise Quarterback and wait for him to develop into a superior passer. Robert’s performance in Week 1 blew us all away. On December 3, 2012, a Monday night game against the New York Giants, Robert led the team to a victory. The Redskins were 6-6 that put themselves in a position to eventually win the division. Every fan in that stadium rallied behind one phrase to express their joy: “R-G-3!” On that night, for the first time in my life, I saw FedEx field filled with ecstatic energy and joy. I saw fans that believed in their team again. It was absolutely magical. That memory will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Redskin is more than just a racial slur. Redskin means so much more.

We love the Washington Redskins. Taking away of the name of our football team may make some happy, but it is unfair for writers to demand a name change without considering every point of view. There are two sides to this story.

The two sides are not the “right” group and the “racist” group. The “Redskins” are an important part of D.C.’s history. The Redskins name is not all bad. The word is synonymous with many great moments, great games, and great people. Redskin has never been a racial slur to me. At the same time, I never believed it is meant to “honor” Native Americans either. I also have never believed that the name was disrespectful to Native Americans. I believe that the Washington Redskins are a second chance to add positive emotions of the team to the negative emotions of the word’s history. Maybe “Redskins” is not the best name for a football team, but one cannot ignore all of the good associated with the Washington Redskins.

This discussion is not so simple, and I would like others to acknowledge that fact. I am in support for having an intelligent conversation about changing the name of the team. However, I am not interested being called a “hillbilly,” “redneck,” or “racist” by people who have never met me before.

I’m not saying that it is not time to retire the name “Redskins,” but understanding the fanbase’s point of view is important. I believe understanding the other side would lead to intelligent conversation about the issue. I believe listening to the fanbase’s side will help others understand why the majority of fans and the organization are resistant to a name change.