I’ve thought about a dozen cute openings for this column. I’m not using any of them. The way I see it, if I’m just going to tick everyone off anyway, I may as well not waste any time.
Yes, I think the Washington Redskins should change their name.
And no, it’s probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
By now, it seems like everyone’s weighed in on the ‘Skins, from President Obama on down to the Friday night pizza guy. (“So that’ll be a two-liter, extra cheese and hold the epithets?”) Now the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has added to the pile-on, declaring Washington’s trademark invalid. Well, once it goes through the appeals process anyway, which at the current pace of the American legal system, should resolve everything by the time Chelsea Clinton’s grandchild is holding office. But it’s the thought that counts.
Now, this is the part where you’re expecting to hear the back-and-forth you’ve heard dozens of times before. And that’s the trouble. You’ve heard it.
You’ve heard the charge that “Redskins” is a racist epithet, that a team name shouldn’t be a word you’d be embarrassed to use in casual conversation.
You’ve heard the counter-charge that “Redskins” doesn’t mean anything but a football team to most people these days.
You’ve heard the famous names opposing it and defending it, the reports that say Native Americans are deeply offended by it, the reports that say they don’t really care.
And after hearing all of it, most folks haven’t really changed their minds. If anything, they’ve fortified their positions.
So I’m going to take a different tack.
“Redskins” needs to go because it’s dumb marketing.
Let me take you back to the last time there was a controversy over the Denver Broncos’ name. Do you remember the people marching in the streets, the impassioned speeches, the critical commentary on regional and national TV?
Of course you don’t. And there’s a reason. It didn’t happen“Broncos” is not the sort of name that inspires controversy. (For that, you want something like “Sports Authority Field at Mile High” … but I digress.)
I know the rule that any kind of publicity is good publicity. But let’s think for a second. An NFL team is an expensive proposition, a multi-million dollar business that’s constantly in the public eye. What kind of conversations do you want people to be having about you?
Do you want them to talk about your players, your trades, your wins and losses, your old coach, your new stars?
Or do you want them getting into flame wars over your name once or twice a decade?
In most other industries, this wouldn’t be an issue. A name that gets in the way of marketing a product is a bad name. If enough customers are turned off by a logo, a color, a product line, out it goes. (New Coke, anyone?) It doesn’t even have to be a majority – just enough to give your company a bad rep.
And from that perspective, the current name of Washington’s football team is one that’s run its course. Yes, ditching it will cause grumbles, but those will eventually die down. (Right, Tennessee Oilers … I mean, Titans?) Keeping it means everyone gets to go through this cycle again and again and again.
At some point, it’s just not worth it.
Of course, if the owners agree, that does leave us with the issue of what the new name should be. This could be a fantastic marketing opportunity by itself, getting fans new and old to come together and find an identity that sums up the essence, the core, the heart of what Washington, D.C. means to people today.
Is “the Gridlocks” taken?