This one really isn’t very difficult.
The Washington Redskins need to change their name. Today.
It’s been obvious for such a long time.
This is not a new thought, or an idea owed to the challenge flag thrown regarding US history. I’ll spare you the discussions about the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Golden State Warriors, and Florida State Seminoles.
Knock yourselves out arguing which nickname is an honor and which one is an insult. I admit I have never been insulted by the mascot of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Or the Celtics’ leprechaun. Others are welcome to be offended.
But while Braves, Chiefs, Warriors, and Seminoles are arguable, in what world was “Redskins” ever OK? When was anyone ever comfortable greeting a Native American with “Hello, my friend. OK if I call you, ‘Redskin?‘ ’‘
The team was born as the Boston Braves in 1932. They were the Braves because they played at Braves Field, the Commonwealth Avenue home of Boston’s National League team. The NFL Braves’ owner, George Preston Marshall, was a racist who posed his players in feathered headdresses to pretend the team had players with Native American blood, even though there were no Native Americans on the squad.
Marshall changed the team name to Boston Redskins a year later because he didn’t want any confusion or competition with the baseball team. The Redskins moved into Fenway Park in 1933 and Marshall instructed his players to apply face paint for a game with the Chicago Bears. He moved his NFL team to Washington in 1937.
Under Marshall, the Washington Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate (1962) and only because Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to revoke their lease at D.C. Stadium.
“I knew George,‘' says former Patriots general manager Upton Bell, whose father, Bert Bell, was the first commissioner of the NFL. “I was working with the Colts in the 1960s when Marshall finally integrated the Redskins. He was very bright when it came to football, but he told me that his excuse for not having black players was that he had a Southern audience . . . He was thinking of his business and his trademark and the money instead of doing the right thing.”
The Redskins are a very big deal in our nation’s capital. When the Redskins played the Dolphins in the Super Bowl in 1973, President Richard Nixon sent a play to coach George Allen. I lived in Baltimore and Washington for five football seasons from 1977 to 1981. Celebrated trial attorney Edward Bennett Williams owned the Redskins in some of those years and for eight weekends every autumn, his luxury box at RFK was the hottest spot in town. Supreme Court justices and movie stars (hello, Elizabeth Taylor) went to the games. The Redskins were as popular in Washington in those days as the Patriots are in New England today. They also had a lot of good teams.
But their name has never been right. In 1999, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that “Redskins” is disparaging and revoked the team’s trademark. The ruling was overturned on appeal, and in 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the government can’t reject trademarks that might be considered disparaging or offensive.
The NFL gladly passes the buck to current ownership and leaves this decision up to Daniel Snyder, the buffoon who bought the team from Jack Kent Cooke in 1999.
In 2013, Snyder told USA Today’s Erik Brady. “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.‘'
Last Thursday, FedEx Corp., which paid Snyder $205 million for stadium naming rights in ’99, requested that the team change its name. The Redskins responded by saying that they are working on a thorough review of the situation. On Sunday night, the Washington Post reported that the team’s three minority owners, including Frederick W. Smith, the CEO of FedEx, have hired an investment firm to sell their 40 percent total stake in the franchise because they are “not happy being a partner” with Snyder.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says the name is an obstacle to a new stadium for the team in the District. Meanwhile, Nike has pulled Washington team merchandise from its online store. Last week, a memorial to Marshall was removed from in front of RFK Stadium, the Redskins’ former home. Pepsi and Bank of America have joined the anti-Redskin chorus, which means the walls are closing in on Snyder.
I love tradition more than almost anybody. But this one is easy. There is no ambiguity. St. John’s and the University of Massachusetts understood that when they gave up “Redmen.”.
It’s long past time for Redskins to go.
Bell even has a suggestion: The Washington Kings. In honor of Martin Luther King.
Plenty of other names would work. Monuments. Federals. Redtails would be a way to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, heroes of World War II who flew planes painted with red tails to make them identifiable.
Just about anything other than Redskins.
“I will rejoice when I see that it has been changed,‘' says Bell. “But I want to see it first. Don’t ever think this is going to be easy.‘'