MILLS' MUSINGS: Finally a real change in Washington 

After years of people pleading in frustration, there will finally be a cultural change in our nation’s capital. During the early hours of Monday morning, ESPN reported that Daniel Snyder, the owner of the National Football League’s Washington-based franchise, would finally be changing its team name from “Redskins” to something else.

As of now, team officials and those calling the shots have not announced a new name to call their team, but several new nicknames have emerged as favorites. The name Washington RedTails began popping up all over the internet as soon as it was announced that the team had began a thorough investigation of the team’s nickname earlier this month.

The name RedTails would honor the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black fighter pilots in World War II, who flew planes with a distinctive red painted tail. This would be the perfect 180, going from a nickname that has now been deemed derogatory and hurtful to one minority group, to uplifting and honoring another.

The nickname Warriors has also been a popular one thrown around on the internet. However, NFL Insider Adam Schefter recently reported that the team had no interest in using Native American wording or imagery in its new identity. If for some reason this turned out to be false and the team were to choose Warriors, it too would see the team morph the message of its name from a divisive one, to a more socially acceptable one, while keeping some semblance of the team’s former identity and honoring the very same group of people it once ignored.

And I specifically chose the word “ignore” in that last sentence because that’s exactly what team owners and officials have done for at least the last 30 years. You see, there are those out there who like to say the recent outcry to change Washington’s team name is new. They say things like that it was born around the same time participation trophies started being handed out and we started hash-tagging pictures of our lunches on social media.

The truth is, Millennials and Generation Z didn’t start this conversation. It just seems that way thanks to the aforementioned social media and our ability to tweet things into relevance.

In 1988 after winning the Super Bowl, former team owner Jack Kent Cooke came under fire from groups wanting to change the team name.

“There is not a single, solitary jot, tittle, with chance in the world” that the team would change its name Cooke said at the time. “I like the name, and it’s not a derogatory name,” he added.

The conversation continued three years later in 1991 after the team returned to the Super Bowl, and again in 2006. In 2013 the Oneida Indian Nation started a season long protest, protesting each one of the team’s away games.

President Obama even chimed in that year saying, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

The next year, 50 U.S. Senators signed a letter protesting the name of Washington’s football club. Later in 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks held by the team, calling the nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.” This was later overturned by the Supreme Court in 2017.

While the current team logo was created by a Native American in 1971, and some studies suggest that some Native Americans don’t find the nickname offensive, it’s evident that many have been fighting for a name change for years. Some even question the nature of the studies which make such suggestions, as the surveys are often conducted in a long telephone list-type of style often swaying the results of the study. Also, it’s no secret that some of those studies were conducted by the team itself, who have in the past said that they would not change the team name. So why would anyone assume that team conducted surveys were done so in good faith?

Current team owner Dan Snyder purchased the team for a then record $800 million in 1999, following the death of Jack Kent Cooke.

In 2013, Snyder told USA Today to “put it in all caps” that the 87-year-old nickname would not change. Rumors that Snyder would sell the team before he changed the nickname even began popping up.

All of that, and a lot of other things changed on May 25 of this year, the day George Floyd was killed. What followed was a cultural uprising calling for police reform and racial equality. As a result, a new, louder call for Washington to change its name arose.

The difference this time around was that it was no longer a minority of people wanting the team to change its name. Whereas before, some may have thought the team should change its name, but never vocalized it. Now however, perhaps bolstered by the rise of social unrest, those people are instead using their voices for change.

Not to be a debbie-downer on the great things the social movement has been able to accomplish thus far, but I don’t believe Snyder would have budged on the nickname had it not been for good ole’ capitalism forcing his hand.

On July 2, FedEx, who signed a 27-year, $205 million deal to sponsor the team’s stadium back in 1998, told Snyder that it wanted the team name changed, and that if it wasn’t changed before the 2021 season, the shipping company would remove all its signage from the stadium. Amazon then came out a few days later and said that it would stop selling “Redskins” merchandise on its website. This sentiment was then echoed by both Walmart and Target.

For all of the faults of capitalism, the strongest argument for it was always that the market corrects itself within the system. We’ve seen the topic of capitalism used to fuel presidential campaigns and lead to economic movements. We’ve seen it provide new businesses as they replace old, closed ones. We’ve seen capitalism spark innovations in the private sector and create new industries when old ways of life die. And now, mixed with just a touch of social outcry, it seems capitalism has once again caused a real change in our nation’s capital.

Jarrod Mills is a staff writer at the Times-Tribune. You can contact him at jmills@thetimestribune.com.

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