“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
– Daniel Snyder, Washington Redskins owner, to USA Today in May 2013
“Never” equals seven years, by my calculations.
You won’t see such a definition in the dictionary, of course. You will find, however, that “redskin” is defined as a contemptuous or offensive term for a Native American.
After years of criticism from tribal organizations, human rights groups and many journalists — including yours truly — Snyder may have finally seen the light. The team announced Friday that, “In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.”
In the same news release, Snyder said: “This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.”
The controversy isn’t new. That Snyder has been so obstinate and obtuse until now speaks volumes about what led him to “awareness.”
All indications are the team will finally excise a moniker that’s a slur. While the decision is admirable, let’s not kid ourselves: The team had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and money — not morality — is playing a huge role.
The timing of events shows the pressure that’s been steadily mounting on Washington’s NFL team. Snyder and his minions are following, not leading, in case anyone is wondering.
First, nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd caused a re-examination of symbols that are racist or dismissive of actual history, from the placement of Confederate statues across Virginia; to the removal of the Confederate battle flag as part of Mississippi’s banner; to whether certain roads, schools and buildings that honored segregationists should be renamed.
Second, developments over the past week – before the team’s announcement July 3 – revealed the vise squeezing the franchise.
Political leaders said there’s no way the ’Skins could return to the land on which the federally owned RFK Stadium stands in Washington unless the team changed the moniker. The team formerly played in RFK before moving to FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, Md., after the 1996 season.
Snyder wants a new stadium and has indicated he’d like to move back to the former D.C. site, Maryland’s National Harbor or Northern Virginia. (RFK is set to be demolished next year.)
“You either step into this century or you don’t. It’s up to the owner of the team to do that,” U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, told The Washington Post regarding a return to the D.C. site.
The very next day, FedEx became the team’s first major corporate backer to ask it to change the name. (A few days before that, a group of more than 85 investment firms and shareholders had demanded FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo sever ties with the team unless Snyder altered course.)
Snyder, in his bio on the team’s official website, notes he grew up in the D.C. area and attended the team’s games with his father.
I, too, grew up in D.C. and lived and died with the ’Skins. My first memories of the team featured players like Charley Taylor, Sonny Jurgensen and Pat Fischer. I never much thought about the nickname then.
But when you become an adult, you lose some of the innocence – and ignorance. There’s no way to defend “Redskins.” That Snyder has clung so tightly to the name is arrogant and ugly.
My editor at The Mercury asked me what the new name should be. The Washington Redtails, bandied about recently, would evoke the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces. Washington Warriors would pass the alliteration test. Washington Monuments plays to all the famous sites in D.C. – including THE Washington Monument.
I don’t care much about the selection, though. Just change the damn name.