November 20, 2018

OPINION: For Washington Redskins, a name change is just a matter of time

In the midst of a busy offseason for the Washington Redskins, there are plenty of story lines we could be discussing. We could be talking about if Robert Griffin III can return to the dynamic playmaker he was in his rookie season, the surprise signing of DeSean Jackson and how he will fit into the offense, how first year head coach Jay Gruden intends to rebuild the Redskins, etc, etc, etc.

Yet, the topic of conversation continues to be the team name.

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation ran a one minute ad during Game 3 of the NBA Finals in seven major cities attacking the use of the term “redskins.” An extended version can be seen here:

This has been a hotly debated topic for years. For every poll showing Native Americans find the name offensive, the team is quick to present another poll showing the opposite to be true. Every time someone argues it is a racial slur, someone else argues that it is a tribute. In this veritable tug of war, it’s hard to gauge any general consensus.

Obviously, if you believe the name is offensive you think it should be changed. Some people find the term redskin offensive and some people don’t. No one can dictate what a single person should or should not be offended by. There’s nothing wrong with supporting the name if you do not find it offensive. But advocates of the name need to face facts: the Redskins will one day be forced to make a change.

This debate is not going to go away until they change the name.

Perhaps NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will endorse a change and the league will force owner Daniel Snyder’s hand. Perhaps the District will not allow the team to build a new stadium in the District, something Mayor Vincent Gray hinted at in 2013. Perhaps a name change will be a prerequisite for Washington to host a Super Bowl, something Snyder has made clear that he wants.

One day public opinion will swing so far in favor of changing the name that the NFL will no longer be able to ignore it, even if Snyder continues to.

I know this is not what Redskins fans want to hear and those who are especially passionate about the name probably don’t believe this to be true, but take off your burgundy and gold glasses and try to look at this debate objectively.

There is a growing list of prominent people calling for a name change. In May, fifty U.S. Senators led by Sen. Harry Reid urged Goodell to endorse a change. In an interview with Sports Radio KJR, former NFL head coach Mike Holmgren said the name “absolutely” should be changed. Even the recently retired London Fletcher said he “started feeling a little bit uneasy about it” on NBC’s “SportsDash.”

Some will argue that Al Michaels’ was defending the name in his appearance on “Jim Rome on Showtime”, but his comments focused on the debate itself and not the name. Check out what he had to say here and see for yourself. He did not come out and say the name should not be changed or that he supported the name, he was simply commenting that the debate was “nuts” because it used to not be an issue.

Even more problematic for the Redskins is that whenever Snyder and team president and general manager Bruce Allen attempt to defend the name, they always end up looking ridiculous. In response to Sen. Reid’s attack of the Redskins name, the team tried to launch a Twitter campaign for fans to show their support. To say it did not go well would be putting it mildly.

In 2013, Snyder gave an interview with USA Today that had even the staunchest of Redskin supporters cringing. “We’ll never change the name,” he said. “It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

Snyder can’t even do something for charity without feeling the heat. In March, he founded the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to support Tribal communities. It was viewed by the public at large as Snyder proclaiming “I’m not racist, you’re the racist!” and he was skewered for it.

Every time the team responds, the chorus from the fans is  always that they would have been better off saying nothing and waiting for the controversy to die down. And that, boys and girls, is why the name is going to be changed.

If you cannot defend your position publicly then you have already lost the battle. The team is at that point. Snyder cannot attempt to make his case, organize support or even found a charity without it backfiring. It shows that the Redskins simply cannot defend their name. The writing is on the wall.

The biggest ally the Redskins had was time. Objections over the name are nothing new, but the controversy always died away in time. Clearly, as the most recent ad for the NBA Finals shows, that is no longer the case.

As long as this issue remains in the public conscience, the Redskins will be compelled to address it. As I said, however, they have yet to find an adequate defense for keeping the name. How much longer can they keep up the charade?

It won’t happen today or tomorrow or perhaps even in the near future, but the name is going to be changed. Snyder would be wise to take control of the situation before it reaches that point.

There is a precedent for this as the Washington Wizards went through their own name change when they officially went from the Bullets to the Wizards in 1997. Many loyal fans were upset, but they ultimately remained behind their team; there was no mass desertion. I expect a similar response to a Redskins name change.

The fans are going to be upset regardless of whether this happens today or years from now, but at least Snyder can build goodwill among those who have attacked the team over the years in a way his Original Americans Foundation fails to do. By taking the bull by the horns, Snyder can also take control of the process of finding the next name. Washington loves its football team, they can’t rush this decision or it will make the transition that much more difficult. The Sea Dogs just is not going to cut it.

I’m not arguing that the name is racist or refuting that there are Native Americans who support the Redskins name. More than anything else I want this debate to stop so we can focus on football. The only way that will happen is if the name is changed. I have zero doubt that one day the team’s hand will be forced.

Will the city actually turn its collective back on its most beloved franchise and the nation’s most popular game just because the Redskins are called something different?

Of course not.

Even with only two playoff wins since 1992, the fans keep coming back. They will come back again even after a name change. The real question is whether you would rather see public sentiment turn so far against the team that Snyder is forced to make a move or for Snyder to bite the bullet and get it over with before it reaches that point.

D.C. is a Redskins town, but fans are cheering for more than the name. The Wizards did not collapse in the wake of their name change and neither will the Redskins.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a contributor to District Sports Page. He also is a college football and NHL blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com and has a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University. Regan follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

Comments

  1. Video is a mattress ad.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      The link has been updated. Thanks.

      • “Washington Redskins ” = Hurtful and insensitive name

        ” United Negro College Fund ” = Non Offensive ?????????

        How about changing the name to the Washington Negros then ? I mean since the word ” Negro ” is accepted.

        This world just blows my mind.

        • Dave Nichols says:

          Jim, thanks for reading. But if you’re making this comparison and don’t know/understand the difference, I can’t do anything for you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] already. But the most recent and obvious example of public opinion swaying against the team was the two minute PSA that appeared during the NBA Finals on national television, sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of native Americans. It was moving […]

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