As we expected, the decision of The Washington Redskins football operation to scrap the long-criticized name was page one news in Monday’s Washington Post. Back in the glory days, when Joe Gibbs coached the team to three Super Bowls wins with three different coaches, the Skins were about the only positive news in the nation’s capital.
We arrived in Washington in 1981, the same year Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke hired the then 40-year-old Gibbs as head coach. Unlike many residents of the Washington area, Amy and I knew about Gibbs because of his work as an offensive coach when Don Coryell coached the then-St. Louis Cardinals and again, with Coryell, as the offensive coordinator who created the “Air Coryell” at the San Diego Chargers.
In the stands, some Redskins fans wore Indian garb, including full tribal headgear, with feathers, and the team band used an Indian-style drumbeat to signal success on the field.
If the team won big over an opponent, headlines in The Washington Post often said they “scalped” the losing team.
Trouble brewed for other teams that use Native American names. The Atlanta Braves came under fire some antics of fans that others felt were an insult to the original occupants of the land that became America. The name, “Redskins” they said, was an insulting and racist term for the Indians.
Cooke, the owner of the Redskins back then, said he would never consider changing the name. Dan Snyder, who purchased the Redskins from the Cooke, said the same.
In 2016, The Washington Post published a poll that said 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the team’s name.
As the cliché goes, that was then, this is now.
Writes Robert McCartney in The Post Sunday:
Late Sunday, my Post colleagues reported that the team will announce Monday that it plans to retire the name, with a new name to be revealed at a later date.
Personally, I’m happy about the change. I will be able to root for the team guilt-free.
But it’s also worthwhile to reflect on why it’s happening now. The name has drawn significant public criticism for nearly 50 years, yet Snyder consistently said it would “NEVER” change. (“You can use caps,” he told an interviewer.)
The timing offers some revealing truths about how social change occurs in America. Snyder reversed himself now because of a burst of pressure from big corporate money. That pressure sprang from the national shift in public opinion on race after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It followed nationwide protests focused mainly on police brutality against African Americans rather than issues related to Native Americans.
It’s true that past protests by Native Americans and others called attention to the team name and thus laid the groundwork for the turnaround. But there’s also considerable evidence that while Native American elites wanted the name changed, a majority — possibly a large majority — had no problem with it.—Robert McCartney, The Washington Post
We became fans of the Redskins during our 23 years in Washington. We went to games, hosted Super Bowl parties at our home when the Skins made it there, and had sweatshirts and other apparel with the Skins logo.
After Gibbs retired, and Snyder bought the team, the Redskins started a downhill slide. The team where season tickets were so valuable that they were passed on in divorce settlements and wills, became known as the “deadskins” with losing seasons with no chance of a championship.
Season ticket sales have dropped and games have many empty seats.
Will a name change help the team on the field? Not as long as Snyder continues to own the franchise. His micromanagement undercuts any consistency of a coach. Even a four-year return by the legendary Joe Gibbs, which produced playoff appearances, failed to win championships.
If someone polled Native Americans today, they might say they don’t like the name because it associated them with losers.
Yes, it is past time to ditch the name, but not for financial reasons but to honor the tribes that occupied this land long before the Anglos arrived and took it from them.
Perhaps, if Snyder continues to own the team, the new name should be “The Washington Sellouts.” Given what is happening in the nation’s capital, that moniker seems appropriate and descriptive.