A few proposals to make professional sports slightly less offensive

redskins

The Redskins are an embarrassment to the city of Washington, and not just because they were eliminated from the first round of the NFL playoffs one short month ago (Go Hawks).

The Redskins are an embarrassment to the city of Washington, and not just because they were the last team in the NFL to integrate, driving many locals to root for the Dallas Cowboys.

The Redskins are an embarrassment to the city of Washington because they are The Redskins.

Now, normally, I wouldn’t concern myself with the other Washington. But the story caught my eye when, after the Seahawks eliminated his team from the playoffs, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray brought up the possibility of a name change sua sponte:

Washington’s mayor says if the Redskins want to relocate inside city limits they’ll have to either change their name, or at the very least, be open to the suggestion.

I’m not quite sure how “being open to the suggestion” would really fix any problems, but I’m more interested in the mayor’s reasons, which are pretty straightforward:

The name of the team — which dates back to the 1930s — has been a hotbed of controversy for about as long as the team has been in existence. Many find the name a racial slur and have called for a change but previous owner Jack Kent Cook and current owner Daniel M. Snyder have resisted making a change.

“I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington, there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about that,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said during a recent press conference, “and of course the team is going to have to work with us around that issue.”

In 1992, a group of Native Americans filed a lawsuit against the football team but it was dismissed in 2009.

Grey’s request was back in the news this morning, but in the context of, well, rescinding it:

Over the weekend, we addressed the long-simmering question of whether the Redskins should change their name.  As we learned, it’s a fairly polarizing topic.

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray apparently has come to the same conclusion.  And so he’s now backpedaling faster than Darrell Green in the wake of comments Gray made last month suggesting that he wants the team to change its name.

“I would love to be able to sit down with the team . . . and see if a change should be made,” Gray originally said. “There’s a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing.”

As it turns out, ‘Redskins’ is still a popular name in Washington, and — much like RGIII these days — doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast (low blow). Perhaps more importantly, the Washington Redskins brand is worth over one billion dollars, so the team has a strong (admittedly, short-term) financial incentive to remain the Washington Redskins.

But even after the mayor’s retreat, and even considering the considerable obstacles,* there are some clear signs that change may have finally come to America. As I wrote about back in June, the University of North Dakota recently voted to abandon the schools ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname. Those changes aren’t just coming to universities, those hotbeds of subversive liberal activity. The Redskins would hardly be the first professional team to back off a historical moniker in light of changing cultural sensitivities.

*what else would one do but consider them?

Indeed, they would not be the first team from Washington to do so (the NBA Bullets changed to the Wizards and have not been heard from since — though this may have something to do with the fact that I no longer follow the NBA in the wake of Sonicsgate). Nor would they even be the first team called Redskins to do so (according to FOX, “eleven high schools and two colleges with the same moniker changed their names from Redskins to something else”).

Some teams faced with a similar dilemma have compromised by retaining their ostensibly offensive monikers, but pairing them with logos related to the city rather than the nickname. For instance, I was recently shocked to learn (remember, no NBA for me) that the Golden State Warriors logo no longer features an indigenous Warrior, but the Golden Gate Bridge:

golden state

And while I support the change from a literal ‘Warrior’, I think the substitute might have gone just a step too far to be palatable for teams with long, proud, racist traditions.

Which is why I would like to suggest a new type of compromise: allow teams with offensive monikers to retain their team names, like the Warriors, and redesign their logos, like the Warriors, but in doing so, in some way retain a link to their formerly-offensive nicknames. This is sort of hard to explain in words, so I’m going to try to demonstrate what I mean with rough sketches.

The Atlanta Braves:

brave

The Cleveland Indians [this one’s a little complicated, but the idea is that in India, they don’t play baseball — and before you ask how this is any better, at least I have the right India]:

cricket-clip-art-1

The Kansas City Chiefs:

master-chief-halo

The Chicago Blackhawks:

blackhawks

And, back to where we started, the Washington Redskins:

red skin

Unfortunately, there was not a lot I could do for the Edmonton Eskimos, but they play in Canada, so their logo already looks like this:

Edmonton_Eskimos

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5 thoughts on “A few proposals to make professional sports slightly less offensive”

  1. I have to admit, aside from the name of the football team in the other Washington, where the name has a long history of being a racial slur, I’m not sure why most of the other names you listed were offensive. In general, these names invoke a proud martial tradition. For example, how are the “Fighting Sioux” offensive? Or the Seminoles (Florida State)? It’s no different than naming yourself the “Trojans”.

    I must admit that I enjoyed your cricket reference though.

    Like

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