The controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins was the subject of a symposium last week at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. The mayor of Washington D.C. has mentioned this same controversy several times, suggesting a name change would be necessary if the team ever returns to the District. The Washington Post has chimed in again, as they do from time to time, and even the popular Redskins fan site Hogs Haven brought the subject up yesterday. This controversy is not going to go away, despite polls showing that the vast majority of Native Americans don’t find the name offensive.
Perhaps now is the time to consider a name change. The team is in transition, the last twenty years are mostly best forgotten, and the popularity of Robert Griffin III is bringing new fans to the team.
But let me say this. A name change will be a traumatic experience for the fan base. We’ve grown up rooting for the Redskins, and we are among the most persistent and passionate fans in all of sport. The league will have to give something back in return to make the resulting upheaval worthwhile.
What do the Redskins need right now? What they’re currently short of, namely cap space and draft picks.
So I propose that, in return for the Redskins agreeing to change their name, the NFL should give back the full $36 million cap penalty—restoring all $18 million this year and raising the cap by $9 million in 2014 and 2015—and award two compensatory first round draft picks—placed immediately behind the picks we sent to the Rams—in the 2013 and 2014 draft.
Honestly, it’s a small price for the league to pay in return for some incredible PR. I think the Redskins could ask for more and possibly get it.
But let’s imagine the hypothetical deal I’ve described has been struck, and the Redskins are going to change their name. What are the possibilities?
I think the team should reject out of hand any names that tie in with the increasingly unpopular federal government. I also think they should avoid arbitrary names with no relationship to the team’s history, or stupid ideas like changing the name to just “Skins” or keeping the name but changing the mascot to a potato.
And above all the team colors must remain burgundy and gold. That is non-negotiable.
Taking all of the above into consideration, I think these are the three best (really least bad) options.
Option One: Washington Braves
It sounds a little weird at first, but bear with me. The Washington Redskins just finished celebrating their 80th anniversary, but there wasn’t a team by that name in the NFL eighty years ago. In 1932, they were the Boston Braves, named after the baseball team that we know today—after two relocations—as the Atlanta Braves. The following year, the football Braves moved across town from Braves Field to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. At this point, owner George Preston Marshall might have just changed their name to the Red Sox, but he wanted to keep the “Indian” theme to go along with his coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who claimed part-Sioux ancestry, so the team changed from the Braves to the Redskins (Red Sox, Red Skins: when you say them together it all makes sense.)
In 1937, the Redskins moved to Washington D.C. If Marshall had changed their name to the Senators (or the Nationals) at this point to match the home baseball team, we would have been spared this whole discussion. But he kept the name, and as the connection to Boston faded and Marshall got into much greater—and far more deserved—difficulties over his stubborn refusal to integrate his roster, the origin of the name was forgotten.
There are two advantages I see to choosing Braves as the new name of the Redskins. First, history. This was the original name of the team. Bringing it back taps into that history. Second, consistency. They could keep the current helmet, uniform, and iconography, smoothing the transition for longtime fans, who will probably call the team Redskins informally for another generation anyway. There’s a precedent here too. The original Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) were alternately called the Senators, the Nationals, and most often the Nats, until the team moved in 1961.
The main disadvantage I see is that Braves is still a Native American themed name and I wonder if it will become just as controversial down the line. It’s not like we do the Tomahawk Chop like they do in Atlanta or have a racist caricature for a logo like the Cleveland Indians’ grinning Chief Wahoo, but some people find Native iconography offensive in general. I’d hate for the fan base to have to deal with another name controversy in 20 or 30 years.
Option Two: Washington Warriors
Not many people know this, but this name change almost happened ten years ago. In 1999, the same year Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins, a court ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought against the team for use of an offensive epithet as a nickname and revoked the Redskins trademark. Had this ruling stood, the team would have lost millions in revenue. The ruling was overturned, though, due to “insufficient evidence of disparagement,” and the considerable amount of time that had passed between the year the team registered the trademark (1967) and the year the plaintiffs filed the suit (1992).
But Snyder was ready. At the same time he appealed the original ruling, he registered a trademark for the name Washington Warriors. He claimed this was the name of a planned Arena Football team, but the arena Warriors never existed except on paper. Then in 2002 the Redskins introduced their 70th Anniversary “throwback” uniform, modeled after the spear-helmet uniforms worn by the team in the late sixties. But they weren’t quite the same as the originals.
They were actually the uniforms of the Washington Warriors.
And they were great looking uniforms, heralding back to a period in the team’s history when they were on the verge of turning a corner. Many great Redskins, including Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Chris Hanburger, Larry Brown, and Bobby Mitchell, played in those uniforms at some point in their careers.
If the team became the Washington Warriors, they could go back to the 2002-03 versions of the classic spear-helmet uniforms. And like other teams that have changed their look in the past two decades (like the Bucs, Patriots, and Broncos for example) they could keep the current uniform (with the gold pants please) as an alternate.
This would sidestep the Native-American themed name controversy—all cultures have warriors—and make a nice alliteration. Those always work.
Ask the Wizards. Everyone loved that name change.
Option Three: Washington Redhawks
I’ll admit that this is a weird suggestion, and the one that’s purely speculative because it will never happen, but it’s my blog so hear me out. The first option, Braves, tones down the controversy, but doesn’t completely eliminate it. The second option, Warriors, sidesteps it with a wink and a nod. The third option, Redhawks, addresses it head on.
Of all the native-themed teams in pro and college sports, the one that has the least problem with their name is the Florida State Seminoles. The reason why is that they have an arrangement with the Seminole Nation to use the name. What if the Redskins worked out a similar arrangement with a Native American group? Perhaps a group that that the team could partner with to further awareness of authentic Native traditions?
There is a Native group in New York named the Redhawk Native American Arts Council. What if the team changed their name to Redhawks with the approval of the council, donated a portion of all sales of merchandise to them, and actively incorporated them in the team’s marketing to promote a positive image of Native American culture to contrast past—and current—caricatures.
As for the Redhawks uniform, I picture a redesign of the 1970-71 Packers inspired “R” helmet, in burgundy instead of yellow, modified to include a hawk’s head similar to the former logo of the Triple A Oklahoma City Redhawks (see above). We can keep the feathers on the circle or work them into the logo, sort of like the “tail feathers” in the image above, but more realistic so they look like actual feathers hanging off the loop of the R.
The rest of the uniform would stay the same and the current helmet could be kept as an alternate. Or, since we’re redesigning anyway, we can go back to the darker shades of burgundy and gold as in the 2002-03 uniform, or maybe bring back the 80th anniversary jersey with coordinated gold pants.
The similarity of the name would also make it easier to rewrite the fight song. While we’re at it, we can drop “braves” as well for the sake of political correctness, replacing it with a nod to the both team’s glorious past and promising future:
Hail to the Redhawks
Hogs in the trenches
Fight for RGIII!
Yes, I’m kidding, but at least we can keep HTTR. I’m sorry, but HTTB and HTTW just don’t look right.
The truth is, none of these options look right either. I’d get used to them if I’d had to, but the league had better make the change worth it. Otherwise, we’re staying the Redskins.