A week after celebrating their 88th birthday, the Washington Redskins are the ones giving out gifts by announcing that they ended their battle to maintain a nick name that a growing portion of society could no longer support.
While Native American groups had long called for the name of the franchise to be changed in order to remove what they considered a racial slur, ultimately it was the role of corporate partners threatening to withhold millions of dollars that moved the team kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, famously told a reporter from USA Today back in 2013 that he would “NEVER” change the name of the team that he grew up rooting for, and became owner of. The full quote by Snyder being, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
A week after announcing the team would form a committee to look into changing the name, “Never” became, we are changing the name.
The ball started rolling when FedEx, which pays millions of dollars a year to put their name on the stadium the Redskins use, called for a new name for the team.
The all-out blitz continued when several companies took things a step further and stopped selling Redskins merchandise. Amazon, Walmart, Target, Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods, all removed Redskins merchandise from their websites last week. Nothing spurs change quite like a threat to the old wallet.
The new name was not announced during the press conference called to announce that the name would be changing. That is kind of like someone calling you to tell you that they sent you an email. Back in my Public Relations days, I would never have called a press conference just to give partial information. Oh, how times have changed.
To be fair to the Redskins, they did not announce the new name due to the need to secure trademarks for the new name before someone else tries to beat them to the trademark office. Back when there were rumblings about the team changing their name seven years ago, a Virginia man trademarked all of the potential names he could think of for the new team. Based on that ingenuity, they might as well call the team the Washington Capitalists.
Although a new name was not announced, the fact that a new name was coming was enough for Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to release a statement stating that, “July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging “Redskins” team name and logo. This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change.”
The statement by President Nez went on to say that, “We strongly encourage the NFL Washington organization to rename their team in such a way that truly honors and respects the First Americans of this country. Renaming the team “Code Talkers” to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, and other tribal nations who used their sacred language to help win World War II, would set the team on a path to restoring its reputation and correcting the historical misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples.”
The same week that the Redskins announced they were changing their name, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had no intention of changing their team name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”
The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Chiefs are also facing increased pressure to change their names.
As I have noted before, I have rooted for the Redskins for as long as I can remember. My mom roots for the Redskins. My aunts and uncles root for the Redskins. For us, rooting for the Redskins through times of feast and famine was just what we did.
I follow other teams, but the Redskins were the first team I ever rooted for, and are the ones that hold the biggest place in my heart. In fact, here in the Gigaplex, there are at least 18 Washington Redskins related items on display that I collected over the course of my fandom.
Honestly, I would be lying if I said that a piece of my heart wasn’t broken based on the pending name change. Don’t get me wrong, I know that changing the name is the right thing to do, but as a lifelong fan, I have a little more skin in the game. Although I knew for years that the band aid needed to get ripped off, it still hurts.
As part of the end of the Washington Redskins era, I will need to decide whether I can keep my pieces of Redskin memorabilia on display to remind me of all of the memories I had, or if they should be taken down and placed in a crate and stored in a vast warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, never to be seen again.
There will be a lot of soul searching between now and whenever the NFL returns again. In a way it is good that the idea of the NFL having a 2020 season is likely a pipe dream based on the current COVID-19 climate and the total lack of social distancing that comes with playing football.
By not having a 2020 season, fans of the team with the new name in Washington D.C. can have a year to mourn the death of the Redskins, and try to decide whether or not they will be on board with whatever the team becomes.
To be clear, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn America into the laughing stock of the world as it runs free through the country like a tourist with a FastPass at Walt Disney World, any thoughts of kicking off a 2020 NFL season in September belong in Fantasyland.
Seriously, how is the government still not providing a national strategy for combating a virus that has killed over 135,000 Americans?
America is the richest country in the world, and I used to think it was one of the smartest countries in the world when it came to uniting people together towards a common goal. The fact that we have people trying to discredit science, and refusing to do simple things to save lives like wearing masks is unfathomable.
If the Washington Redskins can begrudgingly see the light and change their name after years of resisting, people can wear a mask and social distance in order to contain COVID-19.
No house party with friends, or other social event, is worth the potential cost of lives. And yes, people of all ages can catch this disease regardless of political party affiliation.
We don’t have years to get this right, and the COVID-19 virus is not a hoax, no matter how many tweets are sent out calling it that.
As the 20th Century poet Marshall Bruce Mathers, III, so eloquently said, “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? Yo”
The Washington Redskins are seizing their opportunity to get on the right side of history. The rest of America needs to follow suit when it comes to battling COVID-19 so that life can return to normal.
If we don’t get this right, COVID-19 will continue hanging over all of us like the sword of Damocles. Based on the current state of the country, the Washington Damocles would be a very appropriate name for the Redskins to adopt.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to listen to Eminem while reading some ancient Greek fables.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson