The blowback against the Washington professional football team for its hypocritical participation in the “ Blackout Tuesday” campaign is another indication that the time is now to change its name.
Dan Snyder’s team joined the call to post a black square on social media feeds on June 2 as a sign of solidarity with the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests – only to be hammered by members of the public who were aware that the team engages in casual and callous racism every day of the year.
Many celebrities called the team out on its hypocrisy, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, writer Kashana Cauley and actor George Takei, and sportswriters Dave Zirin, Christine Brennan and Mike Florio.
Not only does the team bear a name that is a dictionary-defined racial slur, but it also has a long legacy of racism for which it has never fully atoned. The team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, was a racist and segregationist who gave the team its offensive name. Marshall refused to sign a black player until 1962, and then only when pressured to do so by the Kennedy administration as a condition for being able to play in DC Stadium (later called RFK Stadium) which was built on federal land. Washington thus became the last NFL team to integrate.
The team’s Blackout Tuesday fiasco was another indication that the public is becoming more aware just what the team’s name means to Native Americans – it is reminder of a a legacy of displacement, genocide and enforced poverty. Today, Native Americans suffer further with one of the highest incidences of COVID-19 infections and deaths among ethnic groups, an unfortunate distinction they share with other communities of color.
At a time when the national spotlight is being turned on need to fight for racial justice, pressure must be turned up on Snyder’s team to do the right thing and change the name. Calling the team (703-726-7000) and the NFL (855-265-6894) to demand a name change would be one way to turn up the heat. (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could be encouraged to broaden his belated acknowledgement that “black lives matter” to include eliminating all vestiges of racism in his own sport.) Signing Rebrand’s “Change the Name” petition is another way to keep up the pressure. At the very least, Snyder can stop pointing the finger of racist accusation against others until his own house is in order.
Now that the nation’s attention has turned to the need to root out racism in our society, what better time than now to change the last remaining team name in major professional sports that is a racial slur by definition? If Richmond’s statue of Robert E. Lee can come down, so can the racist name of the team headquartered in the same state. There is no such thing as a little racism. It all must go.