By Brandon Niles explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said, “We will never change the name of the team,” according to USA Today and ESPN.com.
The NFL football team’s name has come under criticism recently by Washington D.C. Councilmember David Grosso on the grounds it’s “racist and derogatory” to Native Americans, as reported by The Washington Times.
The organization has carried the name since 1933, when the Boston Braves moved to Fenway Park and were renamed the Boston Redskins. In 1937, the team moved to D.C. and became the Washington Redskins. It is understandable fans might be resistant to changing the name after decades of cheering for their home team. Furthermore, with such a long team history, Snyder likely has considered branding issues and marketing costs associated with a name change.
However, with teams moving cities and changing names fairly often in professional sports, it’s difficult to see marketing and branding as a legitimate obstacle. In the wildly popular NFL, I can hardly believe the team would suffer any drawbacks. This reluctance is about tradition.
So what kind of tradition does the Redskins name hold? In an article written for The Nation by Dave Zirin and Zach Zill in 2011, George Marshall, the man who brought the Redskins to D.C., is described as a “great football innovator” but also a “stone bigot.” The authors note Marshall’s was the last NFL franchise to desegregate, and quote him saying, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”
It was Marshall who kept the team behind the curve on racial integration until 1962, after threat of civil rights action from the Kennedy administration. When the Redskins finally did integrate, so much controversy had surrounded the team that their top draft pick, running back Ernie Davis, refused to play for Marshall and was immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns. Marshall’s reluctance to integrate still serves as a historical blemish on the team.
I understand tradition has value; however, tradition isn’t a reason to maintain poor practices. Many traditions have ended due to civil rights issues, and the Redskins’ name should follow. Perhaps only a small number of people are upset by the name and most polls suggest a vast majority of fans are against changing it. But when a name is oppressive and derogatory, those with the power to do so should not wait for a majority of the public to change their minds.
Fans will adjust. At the height of the NFL’s popularity, Snyder should take this opportunity to do the right thing, even if it’s not the popular thing. I would gladly cheer for the Washington Boars or any other name the market research team can develop. Making this move will gain much more historical support than it will lose current fans.
Snyder’s insistence he “will never change the name of the team” is a short-sighted and myopic view of an issue that seems so glaringly obvious. I will continue to root for Washington players and support the city, fans and league as a whole. But my respect for Snyder has suffered and the intensity by which I feel the name should change has doubled in the face of his obstinacy. With such reluctance to do the right thing, it’s clear to me that Snyder is just carrying on the Marshall tradition.