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Football’s most racist team name deserves a swifter retirement | COMMENTARY

In this Dec. 9, 2018, file photo, FedEx Field is less than full during the second half of an NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants in Landover. The title sponsor of the Redskins’ stadium wants them to change their name. FedEx said in a statement Thursday, July 2, 2020, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.“ (AP Photo/Mark Tenally, File)
In this Dec. 9, 2018, file photo, FedEx Field is less than full during the second half of an NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants in Landover. The title sponsor of the Redskins’ stadium wants them to change their name. FedEx said in a statement Thursday, July 2, 2020, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.“ (AP Photo/Mark Tenally, File) (Mark Tenally/AP)

Whatever rivalry has existed between Baltimore and the District of Columbia in a variety of professional sports, it’s difficult not to feel a modicum of sympathy for D.C. area football fans. Not just because their National Football League franchise was among the worst in football during the last season, or because the team hasn’t made it to the Super Bowl since Ross Perot announced his presidential bid (the year was 1992 for those keeping score). No, it’s because the team has, hands down, the most racist name in sports. It’s difficult to look at a construction of “red” with “skins” traced to 18th century British colonialists (a group not known for its respectful views of Indigenous people) and not see something seriously wrong.

Back in 1937 when the team first arrived in Washington, this sort of offensive labeling was commonplace. In 2020, it is hopelessly inexcusable. Even the NFL’s ultra-rich owners, who have been slow to recognize the legitimate concerns of racial oppression, police brutality and inequality in this country, appear to have come around. After mistreating Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was essentially blackballed from the league for daring to take a knee in protest during the playing of the national anthem, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a mea culpa just one month ago: “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” the commissioner wrote.

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With the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the nation has been caught up in a serious reconsideration of policing, of race relations and of the power of symbolism. Under these circumstances Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was tossed — as it’s known in both politics and sports — a “softball.” Now was the time to announce a new name or at least commit to replacement. He only needed to catch the public attitude, recognize that the timing was perfect and reverse field. It surely would have been smooth sailing, even for hard-core fans. Alas, he could not stay on his feet. Instead, the team announced late last week that the matter is under review. “In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.” What could have been a moment of glory turned out to be a call for some more time in the huddle.

Here’s a tip from your neighbors 40 miles up Interstate 95: Go for the fresh start. We used to have a franchise called the Colts. They left town. Another team moved in, gave up their former name and reinvented themselves as the Baltimore Ravens. It’s worked out stupendously. Not just because they are widely regarded as the top team in the NFL going into the next season (assuming there is one), but because they are seen as a model for thoughtful coaching and management. And as much as we still may resent the loss of Baltimore’s NBA franchise, D.C. is better off with a basketball team named the “Wizards” than the “Bullets.” Fans did not stay away after ownership realized that glorifying gun violence was a bad call. Those who recognize a need for a change aren’t penalized, they are usually rewarded by fans who no longer have to be embarrassed.

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What’s especially galling is that the organization has its own racist history and ownership knows it. Just last month, the team took former owner George Preston Marshall out of its Ring of Fame. He was the last NFL owner to run a segregated team and only accepted integration under duress. Even the company whose name graces the team’s home field, FedEx, wants a name change, FedEx CEO Frederik Smith also reportedly wants out of his minority stake in the team (as do two others). D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says returning the team’s home field to the District from Landover won’t happen as long as the franchise retains its name.

As Gisele Bündchen, the wife of Tom Brady, might put it, “Come on, Mr. Snyder, we can’t throw the ball and catch it, too.” It’s long past time that we stopped having to encounter a racist slur on the nation’s sports pages on a regular basis.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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