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How to fix the NFL’s problem with ‘Redskins’

Team owner needs to ditch offensive name

Published: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST
Caption
(Carolyn Kaster)
Dan Snyder The owner of the Washington Redskins has always vowed never to change the name.

Official Washington, most notably Congress, is still away on its extended pre-Labor Day vacation, a fact that hasn’t altered the zero-sum rate at which your problems are being solved.

But the Real Washington, which has nothing to do with governance, is all a’Twitter over the huge controversy that is dividing our capital city: What, if anything, should we do about those “Redskins”?

The Washington Redskins, the National Football League team I cheer for every autumn, has a nickname that is indisputably just about the skin color of one group of people.

For more than a decade, I’ve written that the “Redskins” nickname is an embarrassment and must be changed. Now, finally, a nationwide clamor of sorts is underway.

Prominent journalists and media institutions are refraining from using the team’s misbegotten nickname, citing its racist connotations. Last Saturday, The Washington Post’s editorial page joined the fray, announcing it will no longer use its home team’s nickname in editorials, because the term is “insulting” and a “slur.”

Let’s be clear: To Washington’s fans and team owner Daniel Snyder (who adamantly refuses to consider changing the name), cheering the Redskins has nothing to do with race.

Surely owner Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (who could influence a name change, but hasn’t) recognize these three truths:

1) While “Redskins” may have been considered an honorific nickname when it was adopted for the then-Boston-based team in the 1930s, it doesn’t fit today’s times. Back then, African Americans were portrayed in movies in eye-rolling, Stepin’ Fetchit roles that humiliate us today.

2) When it comes to honorific tributes, “Redskins” just isn’t in the same league as other nicknames that convey honor and respect for a group of people – Chiefs, Braves, or even Vikings.

3) Obviously, we would never select a team nickname based on any other skin-color. Blackskins, Brownskins, Yellowskins, or Whiteskins? (Palefaces? Darkies? It can get lots uglier.) As the Washington Post editorial noted, you’d never call a person of Native American heritage a “redskin” to their face, and you wouldn’t let your child use the word to describe a person.

We are better than that. So, when it comes to naming our team, we can and must do better than that. Here are two recommendations: The Washington Warriors. Or the Washington Freedom.

(Strike up the fight song: “Hail to our Freedom! / Hail victory! / Fighting for Freedom, / And for old D.C.!”)

Meanwhile, unlike Official Washington’s politicos, who apparently want to forever fight and never unite, Real Washington’s football fans will deep-six their nickname battles and cheer as one this fall – united in their determination that a season won’t be successful unless Washington trounces its archrival, the Dallas Cowboys.

Yet few of Washington’s and Dallas’ football fanatics know how and why their rivalry began. (Hint: Washington’s cherished “Hail to the Redskins” became, just once, the Cowboy’s secret weapon! Really. Read on.)

Rewind to the late 1950s: Texas oilman Clint Murchison wanted to bring an NFL team to Dallas but George Preston Marshall, owner Washington’s Redskins, then the NFL’s southernmost team, with games televised as far south as Florida, vowed to block a Dallas bid at the upcoming owner’s meeting.

Marshall loved his “Hail to the Redskins” fight song, perhaps because its lyrics were written by his wife, former silent film star Corrine Griffith. Alas, Marshall picked an ill-timed fight with the song’s composer, Redskins bandleader Barnee Breeskin, who retaliated by selling to Murchison’s lawyer, for just $2,500, the rights to the Redskins’ song.

Yup: Murchison told Marshall the only way he’d get the rights to his team’s fight song was to let Dallas join the NFL. And lo, Dallas got its NFL team – and the Washington-Dallas rivalry was born.

Now, finally, the NFL can strike a blow for a brave new era of human decency – one that rectifies forever all unintendedly offensive nicknames that are no longer fit for our times.

So, as a longtime Washington fan, I say: Let the NFL’s grandest rivalry play on, with political correctness and decency for all:

Hail the Washington Freedom vs. the Dallas Cowpersons!

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