Oct 17, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
First, before we plunge into the raging discussion about what to call that Pro Football Team in Washington, let’s just admit that none of our hands are clean here – journalists included.
Thousands of times in hundreds of stories over the decades, we have shown no shame, apology or hesitation dropping Native American-based nicknames into the flow of the story. And we’ll continue to do so in the days, months and years ahead.
I’m especially bad in this regard, as a fan of the baseball team in Cleveland. In all truth, if they changed the nick name tomorrow and got rid of Chief Wahoo once and for all, I’d be good with it. Other long-time fans might balk, and a lot will protest, but they’d get over it.
That’s the point missing in the discussion about the Pro Football Team in Washington. A whole lot of teams in a whole lot of places dumped Native American nicknames and/or mascots, and somehow the world kept turning around.
The transition in the college ranks has gone on for decades. Stanford, Dartmouth, Marquette, St. John’s, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State, Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) – they all once offended, and they all changed, without any long-term blowback. The Saltine Warrior is long gone from Syracuse, too, and who really misses it anymore?
High schools have done the same, too. Canastota went to “Raiders”, without the Red. Liverpool and Westhill adjusted their “Warriors” logos. Central Square turned into Red Hawks, and just this year Cooperstown turned into Hawkeyes. Community input was sought. Colors were maintained. No big deal, really.
So why in the name of John Riggins is the Pro Football Team in Washington holding out? It isn’t money, because they’d make a lot of coin through a new logo, new apparel and new jerseys to wear to the stadium on game day.
It’s something else at work here, starting with a franchise that already had a very checkered past when it came to race relations.
After all, George Preston Marshall, who moved the franchise to Washington in 1936, kept African-Americans off his team for a long time. Marshall’s fan base was in the South, and no way were they going to stand for an integrated anything, even if it proved an NFL embarrassment by the end of the 1950s, by which point everyone else in the league had long integrated.
It wasn’t until Marshall’s franchise moved into what was later known as RFK Stadium in 1961 that anything was done, and only because that stadium was on federal land and the government threatened to revoke the stadium lease.
So the late Ernie Davis was selected, and then traded to Cleveland for Bobby Mitchell – who had to sing “Dixie” at the team’s welcome-home luncheon at the start of his first season in 1962. Welcome to D.C., Bobby, though he did go on to a Hall of Fame career.
Given all that, is it any surprise that a man who grew up a fanatical fan of the Pro Football Team in Washington, and then would come to own the franchise, would be a tad bit resistant to all the calls to give them a new, non-offensive nickname?
But it isn’t that Daniel Snyder is against the idea. It’s how he did it, bluntly saying earlier this year that he would NEVER change the name. Even as some in the media start to refuse using the nickname in any form, Snyder remains firm in his resolve to, in his mind, preserve history and heritage.
Of course, the small problem is that the “history” and “heritage” Snyder references includes centuries of forced removal and near-genocide against native tribes, a clear record that others have cited when changing their team names.
Just as Roger Goodell and other NFL leaders dropped the ball, literally and figuratively, when it came to addressing the link between concussions and brain damage in players, they’ve proved a bit cowardly in dealing with the Pro Football Team in Washington, deferring to Snyder for a long time and, only now, belatedly acknowledging that this might be a problem for some.
It’s not going away, nor should it. Too many powerful forces are at work, and the only way Snyder and his franchise is going to adequately address the critics is to admit that, hey, there just might be a problem here, and hey, perhaps a new nickname, while keeping the burgundy and gold, would not mean the end of the world.
For three generations, as so many other teams, pro and college, chose honor instead of offense, we’ve protected the Pro Football Team in Washington. Perhaps it’s time to stop doing that – at least until they get wise, so that I can type their nickname again with a clear conscience.