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The 5 O’Clock Club: “Hail to the Redskins”

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


The history of the Washington franchise is long and storied. The team has been known as the Boston Braves, the Boston Redskins, Washington Redskins, and currently, the Washington Football Team. Fans of the team have rightly been proud of the team and remain connected to many of the elements of fandom, including the logo, the band and the fight song, Hail to the Redskins.

The team announced just over a year ago that the Redskins moniker would be abandoned, and that the team would be rebranded with a new identity. The announcement came after decades of pressure to make the change, and was pushed along by the events of a difficult summer in the wake of the George Floyd murder, as well as specific pressure from minority shareholders in the team and major sponsors like FedEx and Pepsi.

The decision would have been notable in any event, but was made more so because of Dan Snyder famously saying in 2013, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

But by 2020, it was clear that Snyder’s position was untenable. The team nickname that had been used since 1933 was out of place in the 21st century. Since July of last year, the Redskins name has been a part of history like the Confederate States of America, Blockbuster Video, or Borders Bookstores.

In the immediate aftermath of the decision, some fans were shocked or outraged, some confused, some relieved. There was an immediate scramble to understand what the name change would mean. Could the team, for example, hold onto the logo and change the moniker to something more neutral, like Braves or Warriors? What would the name change mean for the fight song that so many people saw as integral to the team’s identity? Would the team keep the unique feature (in the NFL) of having a live marching band at games? And would the burgundy & gold colors survive?

Washington Redskins Marching Band Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

In July and August last year, it was nearly impossible to read or listen to any discussion of Washington football that didn’t focus on the question of what the new name would be. A lot of new names were suggested and gained traction through social media, and three themes started to emerge:

1. Team names that began with the word “Red” or the letter “R” in an attempt to connect with the former name and keep alive the use of “HTTR”

2. Team names that began with “W” to create alliteration with “Washington”

3. Team names that seemed to be connected to the image of Washington, D.C. (Federals, Monuments, Americans, Generals, etc)

Of course, there was a group of fans who set about pissing in the wind, complaining that the name shouldn’t have been changed, proclaiming that it would always be Redskins, and that the fans of the team had been betrayed. Even now, some small minority of fans continue to stick to their guns, proclaiming in tweets and online comments that they will NEVER give up on the Redskins name.

Like Dan Snyder in 2013, this defiance is futile and misplaced. It’s already done. The team has played a full season without using the Redskins name; it’s about to enter its second season as not-the-Redskins. By this time next year, the new team name will have been announced and the franchise will be actively pumping out merchandise, promoting the new logo and trying to sell season tickets for the rebranded football team. Fans who are clinging to the Redskins name as if it were a talisman of some great power are wasting emotional energy fighting against a decision that’s already been made. It’s long past time to move on.

The questions now are all about the future. We know that the franchise will play exactly one more season as the Washington Football Team, and then — and this has been confirmed by team president Jason Wright — the new identity will be announced early in 2022, probably not long after the team’s season ends.

Some of the questions that were swirling in July and August last year have been answered, but not all of them.

One of the earliest answers we got from the team was a commitment to stick with the burgundy & gold color scheme, which seems to be part of the team identity that nearly all fans identify with and rally around.

The most recent answer we got from the team came this week when Jason Wright explicitly took the name “Warriors” off the table. He made it clear that this name, and others that too closely align with Native American themes would not be considered.

Such an embrace of potentially Native-adjacent iconography and imagery would not represent a clear departure that many communities have so forcefully advocated for us to embrace, and that frankly, we set out to do when we started this process a year ago.

We have 89 years of history in this league and failing to acknowledge our past use of Native imagery in the consideration of the new name wouldn’t be mindful of the individuals and communities that were hurt by the previous name. We’ve made significant changes in our organization and our culture, and our new name must reflect these changes. To that end, we will choose an identity that unequivocally departs from any use of or approximate linkage to Native American imagery.

In his message, Wright stressed that “context matters”, and, in so stating, created an entire class of potential team names that would not be considered — the franchise will avoid any names that use or have “approximate linkage” to Native American imagery.

This rules out names like the Braves. It also rules out the specific names of any tribes (e.g. Seminoles). Wright specifically ruled out Warriors. It also means that some of fans’ favorite iconography will not reappear — the spear, the feathers, etc — and will not be incorporated into future logos.

But guidelines like these also leave grey areas — possibilities that might be seen in different ways by different people. For example, many people feel that the name “Warriors” is quite broad and not specific to Native Americans; after all the ancient Greeks and Romans had warriors; Wonder Woman was a warrior-princess; even today’s American military is comprised of warriors. Still, the executives of the franchise concluded that the slope was just too slippery with this particular team name.

Speculation has already begun about what other names these guidelines might preclude due to that same slippery slope. JP Finlay, for example, has decided that it means that the new team name will not include the word “Red”.

I can’t say I follow his logic, but maybe he’s right and the connection between Redtails, Redhawks, Red Wolves or Red-anything is too evocative of the Redskins name for the team to feel it has avoided the “slippery slope”.

Others have immediately said that the name “Wolves” is no longer viable when the newly announced guidelines are applied because wolves have ‘approximate linkage’ to Native American imagery. Others scoff at this idea, saying that the same is true for virtually any animal.

So, do the team’s freshly announced guidelines, which eliminated Warriors from consideration, eliminate Wolves and Redwolves as well (which are two popular suggestions on social media platforms)?

Obviously KS4GM thinks not. He pointed out in an article earlier this week that in the team’s just-released video to reinforce its message of “no Native American Imagery”, the Redwolves name or potential logo appeared three times.

This seems to be a priori evidence that the team has not taken Redwolves off the table. KS4GM, however, took it a step further; he sees these images as evidence that the team has already picked a new name, and that their inclusion in the slickly-produced video demonstrates that the new name will be Redwolves.

I have no desire to enter into the guessing game; I will wait for the team’s announcement in January or February.

Still, a number of other questions also remain unanswered. For example, over the several months of his tenure as team president, Jason Wright, when asked if the team would retain the marching band and the fight song (or some new version of either or both), has talked about keeping options open and listening to fans. These and other rebranding decisions will continue to be discussed as the 2021 season progresses, and the unveiling of the new identity will happen all at once, I imagine, following the end of the season.

There are two major goals that Wright talks about whenever he addresses the rebranding issue: honoring the past, and taking the franchise into the future. It seems as if these goals may be competing and at times incompatible.

I have been a fan of the team since the 1960s. I like the fight song; I like the band; I liked the Redskin name. But to be relevant in the 21st century and beyond may mean revising or letting go of relics of the team’s 20th century history and opening up to changes that will be part of the new millennium experience for old and new fans. We’ve already seen the old name go; there may be a lot of other changes besides a new logo.

In my mind, this name change has opened up an opportunity for Washington to become “a more modern franchise”, as I heard it described by one commentator recently. More than two decades of poor management and poor on-field performance combined with embarrassing executive decision-making and actions, and the longstanding name debate have left the Washington fan base depleted and weary. It’s time for some new blood, but attracting young fans to the franchise will necessitate change — some of which has already begun.

One change that fans will see this year — driven by considerations unrelated to the name change — is the replacement of the team’s all-female cheerleading squad with a “coed” dance team.

Other changes that will come with the name change might also involve updating or adapting rather than eliminating. The team might, for example, maintain a link to the past by embracing live music at the stadium, but transforming the marching band that longtime fans would recognize and enjoy into a different type of band that might be appealing to a new generation of potential Washington fans. We may or may not have a fight song in the future. If we do, it may be something very different from the “Fight on, fight on ‘Til you have won” that fans have been belting out for over 80 years.

The fact is, we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, but it should be fun and exciting if we are prepared to accept that things are changing — hopefully for the better.

We are currently in an awkward 2-season transition from the old to the new. A great deal of what has been happening has been positive and long-overdue. Bruce Allen is gone, along with a batch of his misogynistic cronies. Ron Rivera has been given superman-like discretion as a head coach, with powers and abilities far beyond those of those who held the position before him. New faces like Julie Donaldson, Jason Wright and Martin Mayhew are part of a breath of fresh air sweeping through Ashburn.

As a fan, I am excited, and I get the sense that most of my cohorts are too, though there are a number of people who keep threatening to jump off the bandwagon if they don’t get their way.

Things are changing in the franchise, and, while fans will be leery of believing that ‘this time will be different’ as long as Dan Snyder is still around, the Ron Rivera era does feel like a sea change of the type the franchise has not seen before in this millennium. In fact, so much has changed so quickly that I often wonder if any NFL franchise has ever undergone so much transformation in such a short amount of time.

2019 is already in the history books as the final year of Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden, and the Washington Redskins. 2022 will be a year of excitement and new identity.

“Hail to the Redskins” is history — but this team has a history its fans can be proud of. With a new identity just seven months away, it’s clear that we will have a future we can be proud of too.

This is an opportunity for re-energizing the team and the fanbase. A whole new generation of NFL fans will become Washington fans if we do this right. They will be cheering for the same burgundy & gold that we’ve rooted for as the Braves, the Redskins and the Football Team since 1932.

They may end up singing a new fight song or no song at all, but the players on the team will get fans’ full support every week of the season as they fight for old DC.

Poll

Do you plan on buying merchandise with the new team name and logo after it is unveiled next year?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Absolutely! I’m pumped!
    (147 votes)
  • 31%
    It depends on what it is. Who knows...it could be lame.
    (174 votes)
  • 29%
    Not a chance! They’ll have to pry my Redskins gear from my cold dead fingers.
    (163 votes)
  • 13%
    Sure...unless the new name is "Redtails". If that happens, I’m changing teams.
    (76 votes)
560 votes total Vote Now