Tayler Lord is a publicist at UNP and mildly fascinated by the intersection between American football and soccer.
And yet “r*dskins” is a derogatory name for American Indians.
The number of grassroots campaigns to change the name has risen in recent years despite the current team owner’s assertion that the team will never do so. Franchise owners counter criticism by arguing that the team name is positive and a term of respect and honor that many American Indians embrace. The NFL, for its part, actively defends the name and supports it in court.
Redskins: Insult and Brand examines how the ongoing struggle over the team name raises important questions about how white Americans perceive American Indians, about the cultural power of consumer brands, and about continuing obstacles to inclusion and equality. C. Richard King examines the history of the team’s name, the evolution of the term “r*dskin,” and the various ways in which people both support and oppose its use today.
In the midst of this controversy, it seems as though everyone is eager to give their ideas for alternative names. Here are ten of the most commonly found on the web, and my thoughts on each, with some help from the book:
10. Warriors: At the bottom of the list because it could still be considered offensive. While “R*dskin” conjures a particular image and “warrior” has a broader point of reference, it still might not be enough of a departure from the controversy: “It does, however, carry an association with American Indians and the history of playing Indians,” says King (158).
9. Skins/Pigskins: Skins is a favorite because it’s a nickname that fans already use. Because of this, many have suggested changing to “Pigskins” so they can continue to use the nickname in reference to a different word. But, as with Warriors, it probably isn’t different enough. It would be misguided at best to change only the name without acknowledging the larger issues of racism and cultural appropriation.
8. Braves: The team was originally called the Brooklyn Braves before a name change in 1933, so there is a historical tie. But again, it isn’t enough of a departure. Of the names that cling to “the team’s Native fixation,” King says, “[It] is not altogether clear how such a replacement would avoid the dangers and damaging impacts of stereotyping and prevent spectacles of dehumanization on the field and in the stands.” (156)
7. Redtails: The first African American airmen to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces were the Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the Redtails. However, the Redtails came from Alabama not Washington, so as King writes, there is “the concern that it is unclear whether it is a name that fans will embrace or find meaningful.” (158)
6. Metros: The team is technically from the Washington DC metropolitan area, so Metros could be a nice fit. An obvious issue is the idea that they shouldn’t use names that already exist (i.e. possible confusion with the full, although lesser used, New York Metropolitans in the MLB). But I still think it’s a decent, neutral contender.
5. Renegades: Renegade is defined as someone or something that causes trouble and cannot be controlled, which is good for a football team trying to intimidate and then defeat its opponents. King says it does “mark powerful departures, opening a new chapter.” (158) It’s a fine name, but I don’t have too many strong feelings about it either way.
4. Founders: This one sounds patriotic, a good theme for the team from our nation’s capital. But since this country was founded in Philadelphia and not Washington DC the name doesn’t have much historical backing. However, I’d argue that a name given somewhat randomly is quite a few steps above any that could cause offense.
3. Griffins: I’m really fond of the idea of using a mythical creature for a pro sports team, especially one with great gravitas and strength that also happens to be half lion. And a lot of people agree that there’s an interesting marketing opportunity with the team’s quarterback, Richard Griffin III, although this may quickly end if he is traded as widely expected.
2. Washington Football Club: Everyone’s favorite argument against this name is that American football is better than soccer and any and all connections to the sport should be avoided. But at the same time, it gives a certain urbanity to the team in the tradition of the European soccer clubs, non? Non. Okay, moving on….
1. Senators: Some people take issue with a name so closely related to the government. There’s also an NHL team called the Ottawa Senators, which may stir up confusion. But I like it for the history: in 1921 there was a Washington D.C. based American Professional Football Association team called the Senators. It’s also a nod to the former Washington Senators baseball team. It’s the most interesting option and makes the most sense. I vote to bring it back.