What’s In A Name?

By Michael LeCompte

What’s in a name?

Pride? Group Identification? History? Shame?

Perhaps all of the above for the Washington Redskins who on July 8th lost their trademark in Federal Court when a judge ruled that the name “might denigrate Native Americans.”

The term Redskins has long been deemed racist and in recent years protests against the team have increased, leading opponents of the name to hail the court ruling as the first step to the eventual forced changing of the name.

Washington is a proud NFL franchise, having played for over 80 seasons and winning 3 Super Bowls (XVII, XXII, and XXVI), yet its name seems to attract the most attention and generate the most controversy.

The team was formed in 1932 as the Boston Braves, but soon changed to the Boston Indians before finally becoming the Redskins and moving to Washington, D.C. Team legend has it that the name Redskins was chosen to honor an early coach of the team who was of Native American descent, but the original owner of the franchise claimed the real reason was to differentiate the football team from the baseball Braves and Indians.

Every season protests of the Redskins occur, are broadcast in the sports news, then largely forgotten as the team progresses through another bad to mediocre season. That could all change now with the recent court ruling against the team. Now that the first legal foothold has been gained protests and demonstrations against the team will only intensify and while the trademark cancelation won’t go into effect until after the team exhausts all of its appeals (a process that could take years) it technically opens the doors for any fan or company to eventually start producing and selling merchandise with the Redskins logo on it, hurting the team and owner Daniel Snyder where it hurts most, not on the field, but in the pocketbook.

Redskin’s owner Daniel Snyder has publicly stated that he will never change the name of his team. Long considered one of the worst executives in the NFL (along with Jerry Jones in Dallas) Snyder is known for making splashy moves that result in more headlines than wins (hiring Steve Spurrier as coach comes to mind among so many other busts) and rest assured he knows exactly what he’s doing in resisting the pressure to change his team’s name.

The NFL is a business and Snyder is certainly a good businessman. In 2013 Forbes valued the Redskins at $1.6 billion, third most valuable in the NFL behind Dallas and New England. Controversy is good for business and keeps his team in the news more than wins ever could. As the pressure increases to change the name Snyder will hold out and die-hard fans will shell out big bucks for Redskins’ merchandise. Then when the pressure from fans, interest groups, the Native American community and the court system become insurmountable he will relent, change the name and make another bundle off all-new merchandise.

If the recent court ruling against the Redskins was indeed the first step towards a name change then here are a few thoughts for Daniel Snyder to consider:

Why not drop the term Redskins, but not adopt a new name? Why not simply be known as Washington or The Washington Football Club? This would make the franchise unique among NFL teams and would sidestep any controversy.

Or, how about becoming the Washington Generals (no one would care that a phony, trick-basketball team already had the name), adopting a simple red, white, and blue color scheme and honoring the Father of Our Country and namesake of the city they play in?

What’s in a name?

For now, for the Washington Redskins…controversy.

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