The Washington Football Team: A Long-Overdue Step Forward

by Skylar Grey ’23

Source: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Published Oct. 4th, 2020

In 1937, the Boston Braves American football organization underwent radical changes. They relocated to Washington, D.C and started over with a brand new identity: The Washington Redskins. While it has been a trend for multiple decades, the recent push for sports leagues and franchises to be advocates for social justice, especially in the United States, has been a very important part of modern society, especially as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained more traction.

Throughout the unsteady cultivation of Native American-European relationships, the term “Redskin” was used to offensively denote select native tribes that utilized unique facial paint as a form of tribal identity, along with native individuals with skin of a reddish tint. This fell in unison with many of the ideas of white superiority in the early United States.

When studying the branding of any pro sports team, it’s easy to see that more light-hearted team names like the Eagles and Bears, usually coupled with frivolous and over-the-top mascots, all originated to seize fan interest and contribute to a loyal and profitable following. The Redskins were a blatantly obvious outlier, as their name supported insensitive branding for the sake of history even as protests to change the team name from a racial slur had plagued the franchise for years.

Ultimately, an NFL team is a business, and financial implications are likely to be the final straw that give way to change. According to ABC News, commercial giants like Nike and PepsiCo, along with countless private investors, threatened to cut ties with the franchise if a renaming did not occur, a decision that would undoubtedly retract from sponsorship money, merchandise sales, and the overall team budget. This ultimatum proved effective as it forced the organization to adopt a ridiculous temporary name: The Washington Football Team. This new team name became the butt of many jokes in the sports world for its perceived lack of creativity.
The irony, however, lies in the fact that, just 7 years prior, team owner Dan Snyder boldly declared he would “never” allow a name change. This just proves the power of monetary threats, and that racist values are still very present among those in authority.

Regardless of the motivation, the native groups previously slighted by the name are more relieved than anything else. In a statement issued on Twitter, Navajo president Johnathan Nez noted that “July 13th is now a historic day for indigenous people around the world,” as the day marked the expulsion of a name that “misrepresented the true history and events that define the word Redskin.”

In addition to these statements, Nez proposed that the franchise change its name to the Washington Code Talkers, honoring the native groups that were crucial in assisting American troops during World War II. Ultimately, the choice is entirely in the hands of the organization, but embracing this name would be a powerful way to honor and respect Native Americans in a way that is meaningful to all parties. While any name change is one step forward, fully embracing native culture and history would signify a true comprehension of their team identity and place a deeper value upon the franchise and its core supporters.

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