Redskins name change should be discussed, Vincent Gray says

January 9, 2013

Chief Zee has retired, but the Redskins name is going strong. (Dan Steinberg/The Washington Post)

The Redskins’ resurgence has District politicos once again talking about what it would take to relocate the team back inside the city limits. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) today suggested there would have to be a controversial prerequisite to any stadium deal: a name change, or at least discussion of one.

As Courtland Milloy reminded Washington Post readers today, the Redskins moniker has been under fire for decades for being, plainly, a racial slur. The team, under the ownership of both Jack Kent Cooke and Daniel M. Snyder, has resisted making a change.

“I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington, there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about that,” he said after a news conference, “and of course the team is going to have to work with us around that issue.”

Gray noted that many sports team — including the Washington Bullets — have discarded offensive names and/or mascots.

“I think it has become a lightning rod, and I would love to be able to sit down with the team … and see if a change should be made,” he said. “There’s a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing.”

The mayor did not go so far as to call the Redskins name a “dealbreaker” but he did obliquely reference that the federal government, not the District, ultimately controls the land on which RFK Stadium now sits and on which a replacement football stadium would most likely be built.

Recall that the Redskins, under avowed racist owner George Preston Marshall, did not field a black player until 1962, after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to deny the team the use of what would later be named RFK Stadium unless it integrated.

Could a future federal official pull a Udall and threaten to keep the Redskins off federal land unless they changed their name? That would indeed be a dealbreaker.

In other Redskins-related comments, the mayor discussed Robert Griffin III’s knee maladies, which now threaten to keep him out of at least part of the next season. Gray put the blame on team doctors rather than Head Coach Mike Shanahan or Griffin himself.

“It probably raised the question of whether medical professionals should play a greater role in whether a player continues to play or not,” he said. “We’ve obviously done that with concussions, and maybe we need to do that with all the injuries. … A coach is not a medical professional, and I think they should defer to medical professionals in instances like this.”

Note that there has been much discussion of whether the Redskins’ team doctor, nationally renowned orthopedist James Andrews, had sufficient opportunity to examine Griffin after his initial injury last month.

Gray added, “I think if the Redskins had won, this would be described as a courageous act on the part of the player.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · January 9, 2013