Look, Washington, you've fought this long enough; it's time to change the name.
I get it. No, really, I do. You have a long, proud tradition that you don't want to turn your back on. I mean, you even have a fight song with the offensive word in it. Yes, NFL teams have fight songs. No, they don't matter, but this one apparently totally does—even to the detriment of an entire race of people.
Strike up the band!
Washington owner Daniel Snyder just said as much in an open letter to fans:
After 81 years, the team name "R*******" continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.
That letter from Snyder makes a ton of sense if one believes their "memories and meaning of where we came from" is more important than someone else's. It also makes sense if 81 years is somehow longer than the hundreds of years this word was used as a racist turn of phrase.
What's that? Neither of those theoretical instances is actually true? Oh, silly Mr. Snyder! How about a history lesson?
The franchise relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1937. Before that, it had played in Boston for five years and was initially known as the Boston Braves. "Braves" is a word that has to do with Native Americans too. However, it's a word that—according to Merriam-Webster—means a "Native American warrior."
Under the dictionary definition for the Washington team name in question, it simply says, "American Indian" with the disclaimer, "usually offensive." I'm no Noah Webster, but I believe that's the archaic form of "usually" that means, "when you're the specific group the term was invented to offend."
This word is a different word from "Braves," "Chiefs," "Chippewa," or "Seminole." Those are words about Native Americans or specific tribes, but the Washington football team is a word that demeans. It does not describe; it degrades. Historically, it has not been used to exalt, but to humiliate.
Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, wrote the following for Deadspin:
The point: Most Native people have no inherent problem with Indian mascots; what matters is the presentation of that mascot and name. The presentation of the name "Redskins" is problematic for many Native Americans because it identifies Natives in a way that the vast majority of Natives simply don't identity ourselves.
It's similar to the name "Sioux," which the University of North Dakota recently dropped. It's notable, as well, that the "Fighting Sioux" moniker had been used since 1930—a proud tradition seven years longer than professional football in Washington.
Yet the school dropped Sioux because the word is offensive. It's not "just" the name of a tribe as many believe. No, it's the name that white people gave to tribes like the Lakota, Dakota and Ojibwa even though they already had names. It means "serpents" or "devils" and highlights the violence and viciousness of the tribes—you know, the violence they showed as they were being wiped off and having their land stolen.
So North Dakota is no longer the "Fighting Sioux." It's actually nothing at the moment since state law prohibits it from taking a new name until the end of a transition period that lasts until 2015.
The world did not end for the University of North Dakota when it dropped the slur from its name. It had lots of disagreement from students, alumni, fans and even members of the offended tribes as to whether or not it should keep the name or get rid of it. In the end, however, the university dropped it, not because it was the "right thing" (note: it was), but because the sanctions the NCAA promised to impose would have crippled the school.
It's time for Roger Goodell and the NFL to make a similar power play toward an organization in Washington that is long overdue for a new moniker. I'm not the only one calling for this. Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation was part of a group that met with the NFL this week, and in his letter to the league, he called for sanctions against Washington, according to provision 8.13 of the league bylaws:
As Commissioner, you have exercised your authority to act pursuant to this provision under circumstances that are far less egregious than the use of a racial epithet as a team's name, including imposition of sanctions for salary cap violations, prohibitions of on-field celebrations that do not reflect well on the game and punishing off-field misconduct by team officials.
Oneida spokesman Joel Barkin also said that league officials "don't have a complete appreciation for the breadth of opposition of Native Americans to this mascot and name," with Halbritter later citing studies that have been done showing how Native Americans are the only race dealing with this issue and how it negatively effects their people.
This isn't going away, Mr. Snyder, nor should it.
Instead, embrace it. Why cling to a brand that stinks? I know you don't think it does, and your fans certainly don't, but take a step back and take off the burgundy-tinted glasses. Your brand is a name which inspires derision as much as pride. It's a name that journalists across the world of sports are simply refusing to use. It's a brand that is going to lead to more protests, boycotts and lawsuits.
Embrace the name change as so many other teams have done—even in your own city! The Washington Bullets didn't need to change their name, but they did in the face of rising violence in the city. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays simply dropped the devil from their name of their own accord. In the NBA, this season, we have the New Orleans Pelicans for the first time. Next year, we get the Charlotte Hornets back.
The world spins on.
Fans love football, and Washington football fans will continue to love the team in Washington under any name. (I think Shakespeare wrote something about this...) They'll buy the new jerseys. They'll update their computer desktop backgrounds. They'll shoehorn the new name into the fight song that apparently they have and means the world to them.
There is no winning with the old name.
Native Americans do not benefit from the current name. As of right now, there's probably more apathy than outrage, but that is changing. The NFL doesn't benefit either, as it's becoming a PR nightmare important enough to hold meetings about. The league will try to sweep it under the rug, but no rug is big enough. The team in Washington itself doesn't benefit any more from the current name than it would with a new name.
So change it.
Don't do it because it's the right thing (again, it is). Don't do it out of deference to the "liberal media" or "politically correct police." Do it because this is a battle you don't want nor need. Do it because there's no real reason not to. Do it because it's going to happen eventually anyway, and you don't want history to remember you as the last old curmudgeon clinging to stereotypes like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.
Just change it.