For better or worse now, the Redskins will always be “the Redskins.”
The Supreme Court’s decision this week not to review a 1992 legal challenge to the team’s nickname by native American activists means they and we are stuck with a moniker that some see as offensive.
For most of five decades as a Redskins watcher, I never found the term demeaning. But then again, I’m not a Native American. And if enough descendants of our nation’s original settlers considered it so, there’s no question that the term should have been sacked years ago - just like Jason Campbell every Sunday.
Tradition should mean nothing in this case. Heck, legal segregation once was a “tradition” in the District and much of the country, too. Nations and citizens are supposed to learn and grow, hopefully toward a kinder and gentler attitude toward those of a dissimilar racial, religious or political persuasion.
Even if that rationale hasn’t applied lately on the political scene, we still should embrace those who are different from us. The United States has had a dubious history when it comes to equal rights, but there’s no reason it should be reflected in the games people play.
Dan Snyder should follow the example set by a much older and wiser sports mogul in these parts. When Abe Pollin changed the name of his basketball club from Bullets to Wizards a decade or so ago, he was demonstrating an awareness that a team’s nickname often reflects credit or discredit to the city it represents. At a time when the District was known to much of the country as “the Murder Capital of the World,” Pollin was refusing to keep a name that evoked crime, blood and death.
Did you spend much time mourning the loss of this “traditional” nickname? Neither did I.
Now it’s time for Snyder to emerge from his in-season shell and announce that starting in 2010, his football club will change its name to the… Whatevers.
Of course, Danny Boy won’t do that. It might cause a drop in merchandise sales, provided anybody is still buying burgundy and gold jerseys, caps or jackets in this sorriest of seasons.
Who gives a rodent’s rump what Washington’s NFL team is called anyway? If it starts to win big sometime in the distant future, we’ll embrace it just like before even if its name is, say, the Salamanders. (Some Stanford students pushed for that instead of the school’s old nickname of Indians.)
This whole business of team nicknames is sort of silly because fans will get used to anything if they hear it often enough. After all, the Yankees once were the Highlanders. Senators and Nationals were interchangeable baseball terms locally for most of the 20th century. The Chicago Bears started life as the Decatur Staleys. And during World War II, the NFL’s combined Pittsburgh and Philadelphia franchises coined possibly the worst name in sports history: Steagles.
Ideally, team names should be endemic to their home area. Is there a more appropriate one in sports than Orioles, which pays homage both to Charm City’s storied baseball past and the state bird?
Fortunately, the club didn’t call itself Browns after it escaped St. Louis in 1954. Franchise shifts have produced some of the most ludicrous names imaginable, like Utah Jazz. Los Angeles seems to have cornered this preposterous market with the Dodgers (originally so titled because of the many trolley lines that endangered fans near Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field) and the Lakers (transported from Minnesota, the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes).
The best name I’ve ever heard belongs to a former high school in southwest Virginia: the Saltville Shakers. (I’ve always wondered if their coaches, players and fans suffered from high cholesterol.)
In the final analysis, though, a team’s name is less important than what it accomplishes (or doesn’t) in the heat of combat. In the Redskins’ case, it’s too bad that they can be just as offensive off the field as on.