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Pro: Nickname is embarrassment; fans should force change

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Tim Wendel
November 22, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the Washington Redskins change their nickname?”

WASHINGTON -- Dan Snyder remains adamant that he will not change the nickname of his beloved football team.

It doesn’t matter to him that at least 28 high schools and 20 colleges have made the switch in recent years. Or that the Redskins call Washington their home and even the president has suggested changing the team name.

Snyder cheered for the Redskins as a kid and now that he’s in control even National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell cannot sway him from this growing public-relations storm.

The myth that sports owners are true stewards for the game went out the window forever when baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers and San Francisco Giants left New York for more lucrative markets on the West Coast.

“When Walter O’Malley moved his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, it marked the era of disloyal teams and changed the sports world forever,” says economist Andrew Zimbalist.

But at least O’Malley and his cohort, the Giants’ Horace Stoneman, believed they could make even more money in California.

One cannot be certain what Snyder’s logic is. Part of it may be he’s a successful stubborn businessman who doesn’t like to be told what to do, even if the commissioner is whispering words of wisdom in his ear. We also know Snyder is a lifelong fan of this particular team. He grew up rooting for the Redskins, and only the Redskins, and that makes a name change on his watch much more problematic.

Of course, we’ve always had owners who bordered upon being megalomaniacs. Al Davis, Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner come to mind. But at least they understood that you always needed the common folk coming through the turnstiles. You had to keep them on board.

Snyder would be in for a financial windfall if he did change the name to the Americans, Warriors or even the Bravehearts, a nickname that his neighbor recently filed a patent on.

Not only would the owner be seen as a local hero but think of all the new merchandise he could sell. Yet Snyder refuses to go down that path. He told USA Today that he’d never switch and then told the newspaper to put his response in capital letters.

Through it all, the ones caught in the middle are the fans. Many of them still wear the ‘Skins gear and come out in droves for the team. Despite only four playoff appearances since 1993, Washington’s football team remains the top ticket in the Washington area. The attention the Redskins receive eclipses anything basketball’s Wizards or hockey’s Capitals can muster. Until that shifts, at least in part, one wonders if there will be much movement on the nickname front.

For when Snyder gazes upon another full house at FedEx Field, where his football plays its home games, he sees thousands wearing Redskins jerseys and jackets, caught up as much in the outcome as he is.

That makes it easy to ignore common sense and even common decency that no team should be called the Redskins—a name that some regard as a racial slur—in this day and age.

So, good luck with Goodell working the back channels, sports journalists refusing to use the moniker in their stories or even the growing protests about the nickname when the Redskins go on the road.

Ultimately, the power for change lies with the hometown fans. Imagine if they refused to wear the team logo or a significant number didn’t show up for the next home game?

Until the Redskins fans take a stand, perhaps one as steadfast as their owner’s, this name game will remain an embarrassment to the sporting world.

Tim Wendel is the author of nine books, most recently “Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball—and America—Forever.” He is a writer in residence at Johns Hopkins University. Readers may write him at JHU, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.



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