Those of us living in and around D.C. — not just those of us, like me, who actually root for Baltimore's teams over Washington's — should follow the lead of our good neighbors to the north and realize that there can be life after a change of name for a professional football team.
The legends and the mythology associated with the Redskins name of course are powerful: Super Bowl championships under Joe Gibbs; Messrs. Monk, Green, and Theisman; the offensive line "hogs"; and the glory days of fall victories set against a backdrop of the Capitol Dome and Washington Monument. With such memories associated with the Redskins name, it is no wonder many feel strongly about keeping it for Washington's football team, even though it's a derogatory term for Native Americans.
But in fact, the name must change. The heartfelt objections of those who find the name insulting have become too resonant to ignore. Many of us who used not to think twice about the name can no longer enjoy or admire it.
Two Maryland delegates introduced a resolution in the House earlier this month urging the team's owners to change the name, saying it "has been associated with gruesome acts of genocide, is disparaging to those of Native American heritage, and is not befitting a professional football team with such a proud, honorable, and uplifting tradition, especially a team representing the nation's capital." And a letter sent last week by two members of Congress to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said the institution "can no longer ignore this [issue] and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur."
There is a way to do this right, thankfully, to have our cake and eat it too and to build on — and even strengthen — tradition, while finding a new name for the football team of the nation's capital. We need to involve players, former and current, in the process. They can effectively pass the torch from one era to another, giving legitimacy and authenticity to a new name.
Let's try this. Convene a panel of grey beards (and sore hamstrings and calcified ankles and wobbly knees) including some of the above and a few others. Then invite fans to send in proposed names. The committee can then select a half dozen it most likes and create a voting list. Any Redskins fan (defined however the committee wishes — folks with a D.C., Maryland or Virginia address, perhaps, or even a wider group, perhaps anyone who wishes to vote nationwide) can then send in a ballot. Or perhaps, as with baseball's All-Star game, one can vote a few times per email address — I leave such details to others. But the vote will then select the preferred new name from the short list that some of the greatest Redskins of all time will have created and blessed. And we will be on to a new era in Washington football, building strongly and directly on the traditions of the past.
Even many years later, I know not everyone in Baltimore is happy with the change — not only of name, but of actual team, going from the storied Colts to the Ravens. But Baltimore showed us how to do it: Find a new name with local and historical resonance, rally the fans around it, go out and win a Super Bowl or two if you can. Not bad. That's a great way to create a new tradition.
As usual, the Washington crowd has a lot to learn from friends in the great city 40 miles to the north. And what better year to look for it than on the bicentennial of the great Baltimore battle that gave our country its national anthem. Let's get going, D.C.!
Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His email is MOHANLON@brookings.edu.
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