Hail To The Redtails: Time for a Name Change in Washington


Dec 23, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins helmets along the sidelines prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins defeated the Eagles 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Every few months, a news story reignites the never-ending debate about whether the Washington Redskins franchise should change its team name. This week, that story comes from the D.C. council, where elected representative David Grosso has offered a non-binding resolution to change “Redskins” to “Redtails,” a reference to the Tuskegee Airmen. Grosso has the support of at least two other council members and is still in the process of looking for co-sponsors. The resolution is politically self-serving, forwarding a talking point more than it can bring about substantive change. Still, this is a conversation worth having.  In 2013, it is unacceptable for an American professional sports team to have the name “Redskins”, a clearly pejorative term referring to Native Americans.

This is not an issue of political correctness. It isn’t about what you can say or not say in society. For that matter, wanting to keep the name Redskins does not make you a racist. The issue is whether a professional franchise valued at over $1.6 billion should be using a historically offensive term as its brand. Countless Native American groups have asked for the name to be reconsidered over the years because they believe it to be offensive and a relic of a painful past. The arguments for keeping the name in place are far less compelling.

Most people do not find the name to be offensive. A new Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that 79% of Americans approve of keeping the current team name. Should the wishes of this dominant majority be overlooked because of a distinct minority? This poll fails to consider the people who are the target of the offensive brand. Most Americans do not find Redskins offensive because it does not offend them or their history. Interviews with important Native American leaders have repeatedly confirmed a negative response to the name Redskins. The opinions of the rest of the country are besides the point.

There is too much Redskins tradition to change now. The Redskins have won three Super Bowl championships under the current name and are undoubtedly one of the league’s most prestigious franchises. This fact does not make the name any less racist. In fact, the Redskins franchise already has a storied history of ditching racist traditions. The original version of the “Hail to the Redskins” song, one of the greatest traditions in football, used the phrase “Fight for old Dixie” instead of “D.C.” in an attempt to stir up popularity for the team in the South. The song also contained references to scalping before being changed in the 1960s (after the Redskins were the last professional team to include African American players). None of these changes in tradition would be considered negative. Fans continued to embrace the song even after references to scalping were removed. Changes occur to franchises all the time: logos, names, hometowns, stadiums, and jerseys. The memories of Redskins past will not be tarnished by a change in team name.

The Redskins brand name is too valuable to change. The economic value of the Redskins name and logo are significant. Forbes estimates that the Redskins are the fourth most valuable sports team in the world. However, unless your name is Daniel Snyder, these considerations should not trouble you. There will be a substantial market for purchasing new helmets, flags, banners, jerseys, bumper stickers, lawn chairs, and anything else that can be sold with the new team name and logo. As the man who created a party deck at FedEx field, the owner will find a way to make a new name financially viable.

I have no particular attachment to the name Redtails. It is as good as any, and far better than some. No name will please everyone. Still, we should at least attempt to limit the number of people that are senselessly hurt by pejorative language from the past. It’s the decent and right thing to do.