Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Redskins Name change: Dan Synder it's long overdue

Full disclaimer:

I am a Philly fan (born in Philly and raised in South Jersey) living in DC. The Skins are our bitter rival in the NFC Eastern division -- not quite as bitter as, say, the Cowboys vs. the Skins but, yet in still, no love lost.

 I can remember only one game in which I was an unabashed and enthusiastic Skins fan: The Doug Williams Super Bowl!

Super Bowl XXII:

After trailing 10–0 at the end of the first quarter of Super Bowl XXII, the Redskins scored 42 unanswered points, including a record-breaking 35 points in the second quarter, and setting several other Super Bowl records. Williams, who was named the Super Bowl MVP, completing 18 of 29 passes for a Super Bowl record 340 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. He also became the first player in Super Bowl history to pass for four touchdowns in a single quarter, and four in a half. Williams is to date the only African American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl.[2] The 10-point deficit remains the largest deficit overcome by a Super Bowl victor. source

I have lived in DC for more than 15 years and it has been very lean years for all of the local professional teams. And the Skins are no exception. Their storied history includes five Super Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl trophies. But right now -- RGIII mania aside -- their winning ways are only history.

Living in DC -- my adopted hometown -- has given me insight into the biggest sports controversy of this great town, the official nickname of the Washington football team: The Redskins.

For the longest, I had no opinion. It first crossed my radar when the Washington Bullets (then owned by Abe Pollin) of the NBA changed their name to the Washington Wizards. 1996, with the crime rate in D.C. at an alarming rate, Pollin announced that he was going to change the name of the team due to the 'negative connotation' associated with the word 'bullet'. source

Around that time, I remember local sports media types asking: What about a name change for the highly racially offensive Redskins name? Years have rolled by since the Wizard's name change and momentum for the Redskins to follow suit has picked up steam.

Name change is the right thing to do.

The Skins have a very loyal base and, to reiterate, a storied past. However, that's not the whole story. They have a very racist past. In fact, they were the last NFL franchise to integrate. Original owner George Preston Marshall -- and the man to name them Redskins -- used to proudly state:

"We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites."

He did not sign one black player until 1962 (Bobby Mitchell) and this was because of pressure by the Kennedy Administration.

In 1961, the Redskins were the only team in professional football without a black player. In fact, in the 25-year history of the franchise, no black had ever played for George Marshall. Sam Lacy, the gifted black sportswriter for the Baltimore Afro-American, called the Redskins football's "lone wolf in lily-whiteism." Their owner was "the one operator in the whole structure of major-league sports who has openly flouted his distaste for tan athletes."  source

And he carried his racial hatred to the grave:

When George Preston Marshall died in 1969, he left some money to his children but directed that the bulk of his estate be used to set up a foundation in his name. He attached, however, one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” Think about that. This was not 1929 or 1949. Even in 1960 such a diktat might have been, well, “understandable” in a Southern city such as Washington then was. But 1969; “in any form.” source

Note to present owner Dan Snyder:

This is not the legacy to follow. Celebrate the greatness and richness of the Skin's past, no doubt, but transcend from the ugly racial practices from yesteryear -- this starts with an appropriate name change.


  1. I can see this from both sides. And, on a quick side note, I see that Wiki has been edited completely for "Redskin" to adopt the current PC standard which states, outright, that attributing any color to someone's skin is a slur (but, oddly enough, not for "black" or "white"); and I see "Redskins" as a descriptive for Beothuk traditions has fallen under the fold.

    The main reason I would say not to change it is that I don't really have a strong opinion on it one way or the other. And not having my own take on it, it's not right to sidle up to folks who are genuinely attempting to change it -- whether they're actually offended or not.

    My brief take on it in general would be simple: Only recently have we, as a society, began really cracking down on anything that even might be deemed offensive by someone. But we still only seem to care when it can be said word X or term Y is derogatory against a minority group. "Fighting Irish" is fine, although--and I would argue that this is objective--a leprechaun and angry, fist-waving Irish is every bit the stereotype a painted Indian (Native) labeled "red" is.

    I'm not offended by the former, so any offense I'd claim for the latter would be feigned.

    I agree with your historical perspective about the Redskins as a slow-to-change organization. But, on the flip side, there's also an opportunity to stand fast with that name and to change the connotation into something positive -- or at least not negative. I don't need to drop the words which have experienced that fate. They're obvious.

    So this is one I'm stumped on. I don't see the name as being that racially offensive. It's a bit uncomfortable, but I think we're attempting to give it too much credit as an outright slur.

  2. @Josh...The "fighting Irish" named themselves the fighting was not as if a WASP selected the name. It is a name embraced by the Irish:

    "...tale has the nickname originating at halftime of the Notre Dame-Michigan game in 1909. With his team trailing, one Notre Dame player yelled to his teammates - who happened to have names like Dolan, Kelly, Glynn, Duffy and Ryan - "What's the matter with you guys? You're all Irish and you're not fighting worth a lick."

    Notre Dame came back to win the game and press, after overhearing the remark, reported the game as a victory for the "Fighting Irish."

  3. Well, that might be right. But there are another half dozen competing stories as to the name.

    With an Irish father and a lot of Irish family, including a cousin and his family directly from Ireland, I know that it's not embraced by all Irish people. The leprechaun with his little fists waving around stands as a negative stereotype to many, not a positive one. All it's missing is the beer mug.

    Though that's a perfect example of how individuals take things and how individuals not involved still offer their take on who should or shouldn't be offended or what should be okay. So to whom does society cater? The folks who embrace it or don't mind, or the folks who are offended by it? The folks who want to police terms they find offensive, or the folks who are targeted?

    The same with the Redskins. More than anything, Natives should the driving force of the change if they find it offensive, not the Bob Costas' of the nation.

    I personally lean toward it being unnecessary. I'm not sure about offensive; I'm still pretty much on the fence.