Whither The Moniker Washington Redskins?

With the Broncos preparing for their game every four years against the team that Dan Snyder now owns, and their trip every eight years to the nation’s capital Landover, Maryland, it provides an opportunity to discuss a hot button issue in NFL circles and beyond: the status of the name of the Washington Redskins.

I’ll start off by giving my opinion on the matter. To begin, I strongly believe that no word can be deemed inherently offensive. Context matters for every word, and even the most innocuous seeming words can take on an offensive context if used inappropriately. With regard to “redskin” as an example, PETA can often be silly and counterproductive with its publicity stunts, but when it suggested to change the logo to a redskin potato, it did invoke a use of “redskin” that few would take offense to.

However, when it comes to the particular usage in question, the Washington Redskins, there is no doubt in my mind that the usage is offensive. I come to this opinion based upon the fact that George Preston Marshall,┬áthe team’s founder that gave the team its name, was a confirmed racist that had deleterious effects upon the NFL.

While all other NFL teams broke the color barrier between 1946 and 1952, the Redskins refused to acquire a black player for an entire decade later, until 1962. And those efforts only began under political pressure from the Kennedy administration placed upon Marshall, And even then, the Redskins’ first effort to do so was thwarted when Ernie Davis, drafted 1st overall by the Redskins, bluntly said “I won’t play for that S.O.B.“.

Davis’s refusal to play for Marshall is quite understandable. This is the man who said such outrageous things as “the Redskins’ colors are burgundy, gold, and Caucasian” and “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites“. This is the man that tried to freeze out an NFL franchise in Dallas so that the Redskins could continue to monopolize the South, Jim Crow and all. This effort backfired due to the clever maneuvering of the future Dallas Cowboys of purchasing the rights to “Hail to the Redskins“. And speaking of this song, it briefly reaffirmed Marshall’s devotion to the Old South when the line “Fight For Old D.C.” was replaced with the line “Fight For Old Dixie” from 1959-1961, at the height of Marshall’s feud over whether to integrate the Redskins.

It is long past time for the Redskins to exorcise George Preston Marshall from its history as much as possible–like the Boston Red Sox are trying to do with Tom Yawkey. I believe that also demands the discarding of the Redskins as the team’s mascot.

However, in case you haven’t been keeping count, I have typed some variant of the term “Redskins” fifteen times already in this article, and there will be seventeen more times to come. This is because I feel that I have a personal duty, no matter how offensive I feel the usage is, to make it crystal clear that, in 2017, the NFL has a team that is named the Washington Redskins. This is a fact, whether you like it or not–and I do not! I feel that I need to make this fact prominent to keep people aware of what the mascot is, and aware of why it needs to be changed.

To double down on my personal insistence, I am annoyed (but certainly not offended) when those who do not wish to utter the word “Redskins” refer to Dan Snyder’s team as “the Washington football team”. In my mind, “Washington football” should only refer to the fine program Chris Petersen is running in Seattle. It’s the same annoyance I hold when the AP Stylebook allows writers to use “Washington State” to refer to anything other than the fine university in Pullman whose football program is run by national treasure Mike Leach. Whenever the Washington Redskins change their name, I would greatly prefer that they discard both words, and work with some variant of the District of Columbia for its location. But as long as the full name is what it is, I’m not going to be snarky like I am when I type San Diego Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Las Vegas Raiders. I will call them the Washington Redskins as long as they call themselves the Washington Redskins.

To be clear, this insistence is a personal choice of mine alone. While I hope I have made a strong case, I cannot, and will not, force others to follow suit. Here at Thin Air, you are free to call the Washington Redskins whatever you want.

However we treat the name, one has to wonder how long the Redskins will be able to retain that mascot. The arc of social justice is never even, and one can never know what will trigger a sudden change in public opinion. As I recall, no one but the most woke of people spoke out against the Redskins name until Michael Tomasky issued this article for The Daily Beast in 2013–despite the fact that Tomasky reviewed a book dealing with the same issue two years earlier. Soon after Tomasky’s article, several people in the NFL media, including Peter King, Phil Simms, and many others, refused to further use the word Redskins.

How could the Redskins name fall, considering that Dan Snyder is chained to tradition on this issue? A leading thought is that efforts to hurt the wallet of Snyder, could be a productive way to force the Redskins to change their mascot. One attempted method was similar to how Hail to the Redskins was used against Marshall–when Amanda Blackhorse attempted to void the Redskins’ trademark due to being offensive. But those chances were shut down when the Supreme Court–correctly, in my opinion–unanimously ruled in Matal v. Tam┬áthat such an action would violate the First Amendment.

But future acts to attack the Redskins name on financial grounds could end up more successful. As one hypothetical, imagine a scenario in which FedEx, the sponsor of the Redskins’ eponymous stadium until 2025, is pressured to decline a sponsorship renewal due to the Redskins name. For something less hypothetical, Snyder may have the bravery to ask for a new stadium to replace the relatively new FedEx Field–could the pressure of the name issue factor in those negotiations?

For those who wonder where such pressure could come from, it’s often unexpected, as Tomasky’s article proved. For a more substantial example, look no further than Hannibal Buress, who in a matter of a few seconds finally got the ball running on the long history of the dark side of Bill Cosby. No one can predict for sure when, and what, will finally send the Washington Redskins moniker to the trash bin of history. But I do feel confident that someday it will happen.