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Washington Redskins? Still?

I’m getting set to watch the Washington Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys in Washington, the winner going on to the NFL playoffs. And though I hate the Cowboys with a passion (as all good-hearted people should), it’s always difficult to root for a team that goes by the name of Redskins.

If you’re not a fan of football (or sports), you should be aware, at least, that there is a team—here in the year 2012—that goes by the name Redskins. And there’s no ambiguity about the reference (e.g. like how the Cincinnati Reds’ name originally referred to their red stockings and not to Communism): it’s Redskin as in, well, redskin: a racist term making reference to the perceived skin color of most (if not all) Native Americans. I suppose the reverse would be something like the Washington Palefaces, with a logo featuring a white guy’s face.

There’s actually been a long history of naming sports teams after Native Americans. Some are a bit antiquated but not that offensive (e.g. the Cleveland Indians—note that the Stanford Cardinal, originally called the Stanford Indians, changed their name on account of the racism); others are marginal, or even laudatory (e.g. the Kansas City Chiefs); still others have even been sanctioned by local tribes (e.g. the Florida State Seminoles). No name is as bad as the Redskins, though, the term itself being a racial epithet making specific reference to the perceived skin color of an entire continent of people—most of whom are totally unrelated.

But, what’s to be done about it? In 1992, there was a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ended up being thrown out on a technicality. Even if it had been successful, it would only have stripped the trademark, meaning the Washington Redskins could still use the name. Either way, I don’t think this should be settled in the courts. It seems to me the best way to settle this is for it to come from within the organization (as with the name change of the Washington Bullets), or from the fans.

If you’re going to change a team’s identity, there are three possibilities:

  1. Retain the name, change the branding.
  2. Change the name, retain the branding.
  3. Change the name and the branding.

And naturally if you talk about changing the name Redskins, option #3 will pop up the most often (I keep hearing the suggestion “Washington Federals”, which sounds lame). But my wife came up with an idea for #2 that I think, personally, is the ideal solution. And here it is:

Washington Warriors

If you’re like me, at first, you’ll go, “Eh”. But think about it. This is the current logo for the Washington Redskins:

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And what is that? It’s a fairly realistic depiction of a Native American warrior—and, in fact, as far as Native American sports logos go, I think it’s pretty respectful (notice how the figure’s skin is not, in fact, Redskins red: it’s an attempt to be more or less authentic)—certainly a far sight better than this atrocity:

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As a result, you could change the name “Redskins” to “Warriors” and retain everything else about the Washington Redskins’ identity. The only change would be to the wordmark, and if you’ll notice, all the letters you need to spell “warriors” are contained inside the words “Washington Redskins”:

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The only casualty would be this seldom-used secondary logo:

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And also an older logo based on the R. Of course, if you switch the “R” out for a “W”, the letter could stand for “Warriors” or “Washington”—a win-win switch, in my opinion.

And while the name wouldn’t be unique (the Golden State Warriors have had it since they began playing in Philadelphia [and, incidentally, they were also named after Native American warriors]), I like it for Washington for two reasons. First, it alliterates. “Washington Warriors” rolls off the tongue so much better than “Golden State Warriors” (frankly, that team is in need of a rebrand [yes, another one]). Second, NFL teams, for the most part, favor simpler names. The NBA has the Memphis Grizzlies. The NFL? The Chicago Bears. They have the Lions, the Giants, the Eagles, the Cowboys—iconic, simple, tough. Classic. It’s entirely subjective, but to me, Washington Warriors has a classic feel.

In my opinion, a switch to the name “Warriors” would be a simple, minimally-invasive rebrand, and I think it’s long overdue. The main argument against a rebrand would be tradition, which is nothing to be scoffed at. I think by making such a minimal change which still obviously makes reference to the same entity, the tradition is honored and maintained (more so than, e.g., making a change from Bullets to Wizards).

And, yes, there have been surveys which suggest that Native Americans don’t find Washington’s use of the name “Redskins” offensive in general. The way I look at it, that’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant with your grandpa and he insists on using a racist term to describe the waiters—perhaps even to their faces. Yeah, the waiters may not say they’re offended—and they may not even be offended, since, hey, it’s a job and they’re getting paid, and they’re never going to have to see that jerk again. So where’s the harm?

A given action—like calling someone a name—has an impact on more than just the intended target (e.g. imagine that grandpa’s family, sitting at the table humiliated that grandpa is such an idiot). If you see someone belittling another, it’s hard not to lose respect for the belittler. It’s especially hard if it’s someone you would otherwise respect.

Kind of like me as I’m sitting here trying to root for the Redskins as they take on the dirty, filthy Cowboys, who I hope lose by a lot (can’t wait to see Jerry Jones’ face as Washington finishes this one off).

Update: Actually, there is one more thing that would have to change. The Redskins have one of the oldest fight songs in professional sports, and it’s called “Hail to the Redskins”. That line is the only one featuring the word “redskin”, so it would need to be changed to “Hail to the Warriors” (not the same number of syllables if pronounced naturally, but it’s possible to put the second and third syllables together). And while it would seem a shame to change the words of the fight song given how it old it is, it’s actually not the first time they changed the song’s lyrics, so the change wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Oh, and Washington did beat Dallas. Maybe next year, Jerry! Ha, ha, ha, ha!