As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com), July 2020
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Bi-weekly status check: it has been 120 days since the NBA suspended its season and the corona monster shut down sports and, largely, our lives. Happy four-month anniversary! Our fling with the coronavirus has lasted longer than most high school relationships…and some marriages!
As the calendar trickles past the July 4, baseball should be preparing for the All-Star Game. Instead, MLB hasn’t even started and the Midsummer classic was canceled for the first time since World War II. Meanwhile, the NBA’s attempt at bubble cities is floundering after several positive COVID-19 tests and numerous cases with LSU and Clemson football players makes any football this fall feel unlikely.
As for the rest of life and the sports world, much is changing. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, America is having a passionate debate with itself. How will law enforcement and citizens, particularly those of color, interact in the future? How will society’s cancerous racism be overcome? What are acceptable displays of American history? Obvious example: should we continue honoring vestiges of the Confederacy – a nation that existed only because of its secession from our union and largely to perpetuate the subjugation of African Americans - with elaborate statues around the country?
The trend indicates America is undergoing a rebranding and will re-emerge as a nation closer to the one documented long ago. This transition has spread to sports, where the NFL did a curious but commendable about-face on Colin Kaepernick and player protests, and debates have reignited over the use of Native American names and imagery.
"We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."
Washington owner Dan Snyder spoke those words to USA Today Sports in 2013. It’s rarely wise, in all things life, to use absolutes - just ask Rafael “I never used steroids” Palmeiro, George H.W. “Read my lips: No new taxes” Bush and Nick “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” Saban, among many others.
Now seven years later, Snyder is navigating a different world and is reportedly embracing what has always seemed inevitable - a name and, presumably, a logo change. There should be no struggle this time. No foolish defiance. No misleading pride. No prioritization of profit over morality. This must happen.
As an ardent, lifelong supporter of the franchise, I understand fans’ consternation. To many, the current branding represents pride, Super Bowls and special times with loved ones. But it is wrong to use a name for a football team that would otherwise only be used to denigrate. It is wrong to profit off people whose land was systematically taken and whose culture was willfully disregarded. The shameful treatment of native people by European settlers on this continent and individual associations with a football team cannot be conveniently separated. Similarly, a Confederate flag cannot represent “southern pride” and not the Civil War and slavery. The positive doesn’t cancel out the negative - each coexist.
Moreover, the name’s source is long-time owner George Preston Marshall – a segregationist who fought against NFL integration and whose worldview resulted in Washington being the last NFL team to employ a minority player (Bobby Mitchell). Is that a legacy to perpetuate?
Snyder’s answer is now, apparently, an overdue “no”. Is a change of heart behind his shift in opinion? Doubtful. It is more likely an acknowledgment of the inevitable and a play to long-term profitability. After all, Snyder deflected the heat seven years ago with a cross-country tour of native reservations and the establishment of the Original Americans Foundation. If you doubt that was a charade, search for the OAF. There are dated fragments on the team’s website but the foundation has no website, Facebook page or Twitter account (at least that I could find).
Still, this is a unique moment in history and offers Snyder another chance to set a new course for the franchise (even if its impetus is more financial than moral). This is Snyder’s last chance to at least create the illusion of a voluntary act and a desire to do the right thing. His next “all caps” declaration better be to announce the team’s new name.