NFL Should Address Redskins Re-Naming

With the season done for all but eight NFL teams, it's time the NFL takes a look at getting rid of the Redskins nickname. The timing may never be any better.

In the politically correct world of the NFL, apparently there are degrees of empathy for minorities. This was brought to my attention by an innocuous mention on ESPN that Ray Rhodes would be interviewing for Washington's head coach vacancy. It pointed out that Rhodes, along with former Vikes coach Dennis Green, were two "African-American applicants for the position."

Last year, the Lions got fined $250,000 for hiring Steve Mariucci without giving any minority candidates a legitimate chance to get the job. The Giants could raise some eyebrows with their quick hiring of Tom Coughlin – there wasn't a lot of time to talk to too many candidates for the G-Men job.

The irony of this policy ignores the question until you read it in print – Rhodes is the second minority candidate for the REDSKINS job! While the NFL has taken a diversity high road when it comes to an inequity in hiring practices, it has remained idle on changing the name of the Washington Redskins franchise – and seemingly that African Americans are the only "minority" in its minority policy.

When Papa Bush was president, a wave swept across the country to get rid of names that were stereotypical or derisive of Native Americans. I was on the middle of the fence in this debate because I could see both sides of the argument. With nicknames like "Braves" or "Warriors" or, in some cases, even the word "Indians," those didn't strike me as offensive. They were names of honor that spoke of warriors, or in the case of Indians, the population base of the community in which the team resided. Tribe names like Seminole I also never had a problem with. But names like Red Men was bothersome. It clearly implied a name given to Indians by someone else – presumably some white guy.

Changes were made both at the high school and college level. At times the opposition to change – and the perceived loss of history and tradition – was vocal. But when it came to the Washington Redskins, the debate quickly subsided and has seemingly just gone away.

I reported on a protest outside the Metrodome when the Redskins played the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. I spoke with American Indian Movement President Clyde Bellecort, who described the extent to which Native Americans consider "Redskins" to be a slur of the highest order – a nickname based on skin color and a nickname without a positive connotation when it came into the pop culture of the day. He used the Sambo's restaurant chain as an example. A moderately successful family restaurant chain in the 1960s and early ‘70s, the name and logos for Sambo's became increasingly offensive to not just African Americans, but non-racists everywhere. Quickly and quietly, they just went away. Why can't Redskins?

At the time of the wave of name changes, the NFL said it declined because of the tradition of the franchise. A dozen years and another Bush later, we're still at the same point. Hopefully, 2004 will be the year that Daniel Snyder or someone at the league office initiate a change. Tradition? Where's the largesse of the Oilers name that was left to die? It happens. Teams move. Times change.

For the NFL, it couldn't be better timing. Baseball is once again shamed by Pete Rose and the reality that only the Red Sox or Yankees will be capable of going to the World Series every year. The NBA is ignoring its current generation of potential marketing stars and focusing almost solely on LeBron James. The NHL is likely to go on strike and come back with less teams, so they're no longer a factor. Even WWE wrestling ratings are down on Monday nights opposite Monday Night Football. The time is right for the NFL to do the right thing and "make a statement" about its policy that's more than cursory fines. Native Americans – or Redskins as the NFL suits who hand out fines continue to call them – ARE a minority. Encouraging minority hiring shouldn't just include African Americans. I'd like to think that the NFL didn't create this policy to pacify a single minority group.

What makes the juxtaposition complete is the current post-Sept. 11 nationalism displayed – where flags are everywhere (including NFL helmets). The NFL has been caught up in some of the "Age of Terrorism" hysteria, so what better public relations move than to re-name the Redskins the Washington Americans. It's an easy way to get rid of an offensive name, let the world know that the Americans play football in the same city as the President, Congress and the Supreme Court and open a nationwide revenue stream for flag-waving citizens to wear the new Americans jersey (and numerous other apparel items). How can you lose?
For Snyder, who tends to pay more for players and coaches no longer with his team, it would be a financial windfall. He'd not only get his cut for the new Americans merchandise, he could continue to satisfy purists by continuing to market the "old Redskins" merchandise – now double the price because it contains the word "Classic" on the inflated price tag. Within a year, he will make back his losses for paying people like Deion Sanders, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier to just go away. Besides, if someone tells him Jerry Jones can't claim the Cowboys are "America's Team" anymore, he'll do it for a loss.

The thought of any player or coach proudly saying, "I'm a Redskin!" is just wrong. It's a win-win for the league. Let the Redskins name die … and do it soon.

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