Now that the 12th of NEVER has arrived for the defiant buffoon who owns Washington’s National Football League team, Daniel Snyder must come up with a name to replace the one that slurred Native Americans for nearly nine decades.
“Redskins” will officially be retired, the team announced Monday, roughly seven years after Snyder made a memorable, over-my-dead-body vow.
“NEVER,’’ he responded, emphatically, in 2013 when asked by respected USA Today sportswriter Erik Brady if he would ever consider changing the team’s offensive nickname. “You can use caps.”
I’d love to tell you that Snyder has since experienced a consciousness raising, but that wasn’t the case. In reality, the change is occurring because FedEx became fed up with the name. The awakening of FedEx and other deep-pocketed team sponsors undoubtedly was sparked by the George Floyd revolution sweeping America and the world. Money spoke. Snyder had no choice but to listen.
Thankfully, the name Indigenous activists have tried in vain for decades to jettison is going the way of the leather football helmet, and we can move on with a new moniker that celebrates rather than ridicules. Personally, I would love to see them become the Washington Red Tails, a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen, who blazed a trail as the first Black pilots in the U.S. military and played a crucial role in helping us win World War II. The tails of the Tuskegee fighter planes were painted red, hence the nickname.
After 87 years of denigrating minorities, it would be nice to have a name that shines a light on their historic contributions. And it would be significant to have Red Tails associated with a franchise that was the last in the NFL to sign an African American player. (It should be noted that signing came about only after Snyder’s bigoted predecessor, George Preston Marshall, was pressured to do so by the federal government.)
Many other interesting names have been suggested, including Warriors, which reportedly would pay homage to the military and first-responders. This, of course, would lead to alliteration, which, in my mind, is never a bad thing.
One of the funnier proposals has been the Washington Hogs, an ode to the team’s dominant offensive linemen during the Super Bowl years of the 1980s and ‘90s. The Washington Monuments is kind of cool, too, given all the statues and monuments in D.C. Some have recommended the Generals. I’m assuming that’s in honor of Washington, Grant, Eisenhower, Patton and Schwarzkopf, and not the basketball team that lost a zillion games while playing foil to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Jeffersons also is a candidate, after our third president, but this could get a little dicey because of his role as a slave owner. Were it adopted it would call attention to one of the NFL’s charter franchises — our own Rochester Jeffersons. Presidents, Lincolns, Founders, Veterans, Arrows, Federals and Pandas are other names under consideration.
My bride cracked me up when she suggested the Washington Gridlocks. A nice play on words, given that football is played on a “grid iron” and our polarized politicians seem to be in a perpetual state of gridlock. To piggy back on that theme, how about the D.C. Dysfunctionals? Or, simply, D.C. Divided, the antonym to the D.C. United, a Major League Soccer franchise?
On a more serious note, how about the Washington Thorpes, after Native American hero Jim Thorpe, one of the finest athletes of all time and a man who played a pivotal role in launching the NFL?
Washington will be the first pro football franchise to change its name without moving to a new city in the same year since the Tennessee Oilers became the Tennessee Titans in 1998, two years after the team uprooted from Houston to Nashville. The last such sports franchise switcheroo occurred when the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats became the Hornets in 2013. These changes usually take several years to enact, but this one is moving with Usain Bolt swiftness. The NFL wants Washington to have a name in place before the 2020 season kicks off (we hope) in two months, but that may not be feasible.
In fact, the team might have to be the Washington No Names for a while. See, some shrewd operators have run an end-around on the NFL, and the trickery may wind up making them very rich. The majority of the aforementioned nicknames recently were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It’s hilarious to think Snyder might have to pay through the nose in order to procure the rights for a nickname he could have established for peanuts decades ago.
It’s clearly something he “NEVER’’ imagined.
Last week’s recommendation by Seneca Nation faithkeeper and artist Peter Jemison that the Buffalo Bills should change their name generated many passionate responses. Jemison pointed out that the team was named for Buffalo Bill Cody, who received medals for helping kill Native Americans, but who later became an advocate for the civil rights of Indigenous people. Many viewed Jemison’s suggestion as political correctness run amok, and vehemently opposed it. Others, given the need to come to grips with our messy history, suggested new names for Buffalo’s NFL team. Still, others strongly advised I stick to sports. They wrote that, in light of the pandemic and social unrest, there were far more important issues I could have discussed.
I get it, to a certain point. Sports is supposed to be an escape. But there’s no escaping that sports and reality often intersect. And I would argue that derogatory names are important issues because, as was the case with Washington’s football team, they can perpetuate negative stereotypes and behavior. Honest discussion can be uncomfortable, but necessary. For better or worse, sports is a huge part of our society and, at times, needs to be part of the larger conversation.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” was just published and is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.