Washington Redskins Announce Name Change Without Announcing New Name

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 turning 88-years-old, the Washington Redskins announced that they were changing their name and logo.
Photo R. Anderson

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.”
Photo R. Anderson

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.

This door knob decoration has been on a door in all of my bedrooms since I was in elementary school. With the Washington Redskins changing their name to be more inline with the times, the door decoration’s days may be numbered.
Photo R. Anderson

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

Redskins and Indians Facing Renewed Calls to Change Their Team Names

As the summer of COVID-19 and social change rolls on with no end in sight, there are renewed calls for professional sports teams to take a hard look at nicknames that are deemed offensive to Native American populations.

Team names like Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Redskins have long been considered offensive to some Native Americans. The origin of the team names in many cases were first set up in the early parts of the 20th Century as part of imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race. In both instances, the belief being that the best way to honor the nostalgia of the vanquished was by using names and imagery to remind people of them.

Of course, the problem with hanging one’s nickname hat on imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race, when it comes to Native American terms, is that the Native American populations are very much still among us. They remain despite efforts throughout American history to wipe them out, or relegate them to out of sight, and out of mind reservations. So, the use of a population as a mascot becomes problematic when one tries to adhere to the “all men (and women) are created equal” wording of the founding fathers.

After years of trying to get the courts to force the Washington Redskins to change their nickname, it appears that the court of public opinion will give Native American groups the victory they have long sought as the team faces growing financial pressure to change their name .
Photo R. Anderson

The efforts to remove Native American nicknames and imagery from professional sports pop up about every five years or so.

Each time the issue arises, it results in the teams providing survey results that show that the majority of people like the names just the way they are. The courts tend to side with the teams over the lawsuits brought by Native American plaintiffs, and life as the teams know it goes on.

In fact, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder 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.”

While Snyder remained steadfast, the Cleveland Indians on the other hand, made some strides by removing the “Chief Wahoo” logo from their uniforms in 2019. The Chief Wahoo logo had long been considered a racial stereotype by many Native American groups.

While the removal of Chief Wahoo was considered a positive, albeit long overdue step, fast forward to 2020, and the Redskins and Indians have agreed to take a look at going a step further and changing their nicknames.

So why the change of heart? The company that pays millions of dollars a year for the naming right on the stadium where the Redskins play, FedEx, sent a letter telling the team that they needed to change the name and viola a committee was formed. Several people who own minority stakes in the Redskins have also said that they want to sell their shares in the team in what could be considered “a distancing themselves from an unpopular situation” scenario.

While one always wants to think that corporate decisions to right societal wrongs are driven by wanting to get on the right side of history, the sad truth is that in many cases the only way to drive change is to threaten the bank accounts of team owners.

The Chief Wahoo logo used by the Cleveland Indians has long been considered a racial stereotype by many Native American groups. The team removed the logo from their uniforms in 2019.
Photo R. Anderson

In Washington’s case, the threat of losing millions of dollars a year in revenue turned the owner’s “we will NEVER change the name, end of story period,” to “we are looking into it and have formed a committee to explore potential name changes.”

The District of Columbia has also said that they will not consider allowing the Redskins to move their operations from Virginia to D.C without changing their name.

Now before we go any further, and in the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that I was born in the same city as Dan Snyder, and I grew up as a Washington Redskins fan. I have bled burgundy and gold for as long as I can remember. I have cheered for the Redskins during seasons of feast, as well as seasons of famine.

In fact, I once led an entire elementary school in the singing of “Hail to the Redskins” using a homemade megaphone during a pre-Super Bowl rally in the school auditorium.

To take my fandom even further, I even still use the same Redskins key chain that was given to me by my seventh grade science teacher, Mr. Hall.

Back in 2013, I pointed out that there were Native American schools who used Redskins as their team nickname. I also noted that for all of the people who find the team name offensive, there are just as many, if not more who find the team name a part of childhood memories and do not see any racial overtones associated with it. Therefore, any change in team name needs to both honor the storied history of the franchise on the field, as well as ensuring that it offends as few people as possible.

I grew up as a Washington Redskins fan. I have bled burgundy and gold for as long as I can remember. The pending name change of the team is definitely bittersweet.
Photo R. Anderson

Seven years later, there is still no perfect solution that will make everybody happy. But, unlike in the past, it appears more likely that the first football team that I followed is headed for a Prince style name change along with the Cleveland Indians.

Of course, Washington D.C. is no stranger to having people call for names of their franchises to be changed. When I lived in Maryland, I followed the Washington Bullets. Shortly after moving to Florida people were up in arms about such a violent name for a franchise so the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards.

I say this not to try to compare the use of the term “bullets” with terms that are considered racial slurs by certain populations. Instead, I state it to point out that there are examples of teams changing their names and the world didn’t stop spinning.

The recent social justice movement is exposing deep scars and tears in the fabric of the nation. There were many incidents of injustice from the time that settlers from Europe first came to the New World. We are not going to fix those issues overnight, and we cannot completely erase the past by renaming everything and removing statues of things we find offensive.

Tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus, and dumping them into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, does not solve anything long term. It only serves to enrage a base that sees such actions as vandalism instead of activism.

It is common in many countries during a regime change that all statues and symbols of the past leadership are torn down. That can be a short-sighted approach to things and does not really solve the core issues.

Other countries have moved statues and monuments of their past into closed areas where the proper perspective of the history of the events can be explained from both sides. These monument gardens preserve the past, while also giving new insight into why things have changed.

The past, both good and bad, is what brought us to this very moment and made the country what it is, warts and all. In our efforts to right the ship we need to ensure that we do not over correct to the point that in another 50-years the ship has to be turned back in another direction through a modified form of imperialist nostalgia.

While we do not need to hold things in the high regard that they may have once been held, we need to ensure that history is remembered so that it can be learned from, in order that the more shameful parts of history are not repeated.

Historical course changing moments do not come around every day. So, it is up to people on all sides of the issue to ensure that we get this right whether that be renaming sports teams, or ensuring that people are free to walk down the street without having to look over their shoulder, or think they will be harassed because of the way they look or talk.

As a society we also need to ensure that the Native American populations receive the same access to quality health care as the rest of society. This is especially true during the global COVID-19 pandemic where Native American populations have been hit especially hard.

The Washington Redskins turn 88-years-old this week. By the time they turn 89-years-old, it is highly likely that they will go by a different name.

Part of me can see that it is time for a change. The rest of me will mourn the loss of childhood memories now tainted by the understanding that a simple team nickname I wore proudly and cheered even louder for, is now considered by some to be a symbol of hate to be removed from the public space in the name of racial equality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly reminded of a Robert Frost poem.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson