With luminaries ranging from Maureen Dowd to George Will recently weighing in on the Redskins name controversy, I thought it might be time for a simple, lowly, lifelong fan to voice his opinion.
Last month, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wrote a letter to fans launching a disjointed attack on the perceived political correctness police who are stirring this debate. His first line of argument is that in a 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey of Native Americans, 90 percent of respondents didn't find the name offensive. Snyder doesn't comment on the acceptability of insulting 10 percent of the population or how his calculus would change if another survey showed a different result -- as is likely given the current controversy and lawsuit.
Snyder then reminds Washington of the 'history and proud tradition' of the Redskins name, meant to honor Native Americans. It's funny -- I distinctly remember Ole Miss making the same argument when they tried to hold on to their pre-game song, 'From Dixie with Love', and their mascot, Johnny Rebel. These days Johnny Rebel has been swapped out for a cuddly bear and the only way to hear the old song in Oxford is to visit a museum.
Let me be clear. I love the Redskins. In the way you love your crazy uncle who shows up once a year to give you presents but disappears for long stretches and leaves you dejected. Their song, their name, their logo are hallmarks of my childhood. The best present my wife ever got me was an RGIII jersey. I cried when I spilled wing sauce on it. But what about the day when I teach my child about our local team? When they ask me, "Daddy, what's a Redskin?", can I spin out a tale of tradition and pride and then simultaneously try to teach them about diversity and tolerance? I'm not as talented as Dan Snyder.
As all Redskins fans know, Snyder speaks one language -- money. And all the lawsuits, fan letters and public shaming won't nudge him an inch unless it affects his pocketbook. So, let's talk dollars and cents.
The Redskins organization apparently believes that sticking with the status quo is the most profitable move. And they have good evidence backing them up. According to Forbes magazine, with a $1.5 billion evaluation, the Redskins are the fourth most valuable franchise in all of sports. They make a cool $327 million annually in revenue. But while the Redskins are fearful of the possible financial loss resulting from a name change, they're missing the golden end zone in front of them. Just imagine the merchandising opportunity, "2014 -- Redskins say Goodbye -- the End of an Era." The commemorative gear alone should pay for a year's worth of the offensive line's all-you-can-eat buffets. And what about the new team? The Warriors or the Red Hawks or the Renegades or the Shutdowns? Every fan will purchase new jerseys, new hats, and new shirts -- while the vintage Redskins merchandise is sold with a markup. Two teams for the price of one.
Now in case the Redskins organization is skeptical of this budget bonanza, all they need to do is look across town to the Washington Wizards. Bullets owner Abe Pollin, fearful that the team name promoted violence in a crime-plagued city, wanted a switch. During a two-week period in 1997, everyone in D.C. could vote through a 1-900 hotline. When the 'Wizards' were announced as the winner, I yelled at the local news. Polls showed the city hated the new name but hey, democracy is democracy. People bought in. Merchandise sales went through the roof. Local middle school bands renamed themselves the 'Wiz Kids.' See what I'm saying, Dan? What percentage of dead people do you think were offended by the name 'Bullets'? Less than 10 percent I bet. It's a very hard group to accurately survey.
So, let's make a deal. Let's take a vote of all Native Americans and commit to the results. If polling is an argument to keep the name, surely a national vote by the same population is worth more than one poll. If history and tradition are an argument, who better to judge whether a name honors or insults than the people at whom it is directed? Dan, if you're right and the community loves the name, you keep your Redskins and your marginally increasing profits. And I'll still invest four hours every Sunday, shaking my head in disgust because we can't tackle. But if the majority of Native Americans find the name to be racist, as I do, you get a new name and a chance to erase all those years of losing records. Just think of what you can say before Opening Day 2014 -- My name is Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Warriors, a team that has never lost a football game. Even Jerry Jones can't do that.