As we have seen in the last 48 hours, the Washington Redskins football team is under fire for their team nickname.
For the sake of this argument, and to not dismiss half of my readers from the jump, let me provide some context of where I stand. I’m a native Washingtonian and have been a fan my whole life. I was born in 1983, and from birth, I have lived and breathed Redskins football.
I had the luxury of two older brothers who were 10 years older than me, and they made sure quickly that I was fully dressed and equipped with all the latest ‘Skins gear. Unfortunately I was too young to truly remember the 1982 and 1987 teams, but the ’91 team I will never forget. Not only did we win, but we kicked ass and took names.
My earliest memories consisted of going to the Stadium Store, a small shop outside of Wheaton Plaza (mall in suburban Maryland), where I would buy shirts and pennants. Players like Mark Rypien, Ricky Ervins, Gerald Riggs and Jay Schroeder were all players I knew by heart. Shoot, Don Warren even visited my elementary school (Shout out to St. Jude’s!) and my classmate’s sister was a Redskinette. The Redskins were my life.
I even spent the better part of my High School career tracking down Redskins players to get autographs, and when I interacted with them it made my day. One of my favorite photos is a picture I have with Irving Fryar, Michael Westbrook and Dana Stubblefield, when they made an appearance at Out of the Way Cafe in Derwood, Maryland.
Another great memory is when I met Clinton Portis and Santana Moss at Montgomery Mall, when the Redskins Store opened up. Moss signed my Washington Post Sport Page of him, you know the one where he burnt the Cowboys for two touchdowns in the last two minutes? Yeah that was awesome. I have it framed downstairs. Sean Taylor was advertised to be there as well, and I was pumped, but as we know young Sean was a little inconsistent with his deadlines. He ended up skipping the event.
All of these things made me the fan I am today. As some of you may have seen, I’ve been writing about the team for nearly three years now. And trust me, it’s not paying the bills. I do it for the love of the team.
How the Redskins are Viewed
Considering all of this, it’s hard seeing what’s happening to my hometown football team. I do believe a name change is on the horizon, and I’m not entirely upset about it. The team has been been struggling for years, and comes off antiquated in terms of facilities and jerseys. The owner is not received well nationally, and shows a lack of progressive vision. Plus, the lack of continued on-the-field success has driven away fans for decades. It is not an uncommon practice to see fans of the opposing team overrunning FedEx Field.
As I walk through the local supermarket in suburban Maryland, I’ve seen products fade from burgundy to purple, as more and more fans tend to gravitate towards the Baltimore Ravens. After all, they have a marketable quarterback, great national image, sustained success, and they went 14-2 last year. Last year was incredibly hard considering the Redskins went 3-13 last season, and sported the league’s worst offense.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find today’s youth wearing Redskins memorabilia in Montgomery County. I can say that with confidence, as I’ve been teaching and working with kids for the last 15 years. They’d rather wear the gear of a winner. Something notable and fun. And unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in Washington for years.
How Dan Can Save the Redskins
In my opinion, Mr. Snyder has only two real options left in terms of the most recent events. He can change the Redskins name, or do something meaningful with Native Americans to prove the nickname is a symbol of respect. I’ll shelve the “new name” discussion for another day, so let’s focus on the latter argument.
If Snyder wants to maintain the Redskins nickname, he needs to provide action-based, tangible evidence of why the Redskins name is a symbol of honor.
This can be done in a variety of ways. For one, Snyder could hire Native Americans and place them in high office positions within the organization. This would give a typically under-served group an opportunity to express their viewpoints, on a larger platform, all the while accumulating generational wealth. It would also provide an open-door into the NFL world. I can’t imagine a large amount of Native Americans in the industry. As we have seen with other minority groups, the NFL Front Office landscape is mostly homogeneous.
He could also align with local Native American groups, and provide each of them small monetary investments into the team. As little as a 1% ownership, or vested stock options, could make a vast difference in terms of support. Considering the groups would have autonomy with that money, they could invest within themselves or again, or use the finances as funding for better communication nationally.
I know, some of you may argue, “But doesn’t he do that with the Redskins Charitable Foundation Already?” I suppose. But maybe that’s an additional challenge for Snyder. Be more transparent on what the Foundation actually does, and make it a common talking point. Display these actions more often and advertise them during games. Or even give fans easier access to donate. At this point, the Charitable Foundation is largely symbolic and the common fan has no true idea of what it does.
Altogether, if the Redskins moniker is truly a symbol of respect, make it glaringly obvious why this is true, Mr. Snyder. Right now the narrative is the team’s name is disrespectful and controversial to many. You could cement your legacy as a “Redskins” savior if you truly prove the name is respectful and appropriate. But you gotta put your money where your mouth is. In today’s society, actions speak louder than words.