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MEMO: A HOME TEAM NAME GAME

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 1999 10:07 AM

To: Howard Milstein and Daniel Snyder, plutocrats
From: Gene Weingarten, Washington Post Staff Writer Gentlemen:

Congratulations on your new purchase. You have shelled out more for the Washington Redskins than Tom Jefferson paid for Louisiana, the Dakotas and a few million amber-waved acres in between. This gives you a certain degree of power in this town. You can dine wherever you wish without reservations. You can flog your servants and no one will care. And, above all, you can change the name of the team.

You should. It stinks. We have a new one that's better.

You have heard all the tired arguments about changing the team's name, pro and con. (Pro: The current name is a racial slur, a foul expectoration. It is the n-word, the k-word, the p-word, an entire alphabet of mindless hatred. It is demeaning not only to Native Americans but to all people who honor pride in ancestry. Con: The current name is very popular among fat guys who scream.)

If you make this change, the average Redskins fan may fuss and grumble about tradition and oversensitivity. You will be accused of political correctness. But the average Redskins fan -- let's call him Larry -- is neither an idiot nor a bigot. On some level, Larry understands this name has to go. And because he believes in free enterprise and the perquisites of success, he will not question your right to choose a new name yourselves. You guys have a brief window of opportunity, until you become the Redskins. Larry will understand. He admires your riches and power, and begrudges you neither. He knows he'd damn well change the name of the team himself, if he could. He would call it the Washington Larrys.

So do it. You will survive. Good people will applaud you. God will approve, too.

How do you go about choosing a new name?

There are certain things you should not do.

First, resist the temptation to call them the 'Skins. I know this is a popular suggestion. But it is very bad, both because it makes no sense (why not "the Pancreases"?) and because it is as transparent as ballpark beer. You might as well name the team "the 'Chuckers" or "the 'Olacks" or "the 'Ebes."

Second, appoint no committees. Conduct no marketing surveys. Great decisions are not made like that. Joe Gibbs did not take a public opinion poll before he called an end-around on fourth and goal from the 3. He consulted his gut. That's what leaders do.

Above all, you should not open up this decision to the public, as the Washington Bullets did. A contest produces too many ideas, and the sheer numbers deaden your mind. The Bullets wound up with five dull and stupid finalists. Now the team is the dull and stupid Washington Wizards, a name that replaces the objectionable specter of urban crime with the objectionable specter of white sheets, pointy heads and flaming crosses.

No, the problem with contests is that the true gems sometimes get lost. Trust me, I know. I run a reader-participation contest every Sunday in The Post.

It is called The Style Invitational. It began nearly six years ago, and as it happens, the very first contest was to come up with a new name for the Washington Redskins.

There were many funny entries. One was "the Washington L'Enfant Terribles." Another was "the Washington Embittered Food-Service Workers." Another was "the Washington Homicide Capitols." The winner was "the Baltimore Redskins (let them worry about it)."

But perhaps the best entry of all won nothing. I almost missed it altogether. It wasn't funny. It was, in retrospect, merely blindingly brilliant:

The Washington Clout.

The Clout was proposed by someone named Hank Wallace, of Washington. I don't know Hank, though I am reliably informed he is in public relations. You are probably not legally obligated to do this, but if I were you, while your checkbook is out, I would send Hank a piece of paper featuring several consecutive zeros.

"The Washington Clout" is singular -- in more ways than one. It is in line with the hip trend of naming teams for concepts (the Miami Heat) rather than for wild animals, rotting local industry ("the Green Bay Meat Packers") or the color of one's socks. The Clout is appropriate to its city, and to that city only. This will discourage you guys from ever fleeing in the night to some growing Sun Belt town. The San Bernardino Clout just isn't going to work. The people of Washington will love you for that.

The fact is, Washington has little to distinguish itself from other great cities. It is not particularly big. It has no skyline. It produces no steel. What it has is power. Influence. Connections. Clout.

And, oh, yeah. The team hits pretty hard, too.

Think of the headlines:

Clout KOs Cowboys!

And, after a particularly satisfying win:

Clout Nine!

The possibilities are limitless. They stretch before you like a hundred yards of daylight.

"The Washington Clout."

We've just tucked it firmly in your gut. Run with it.

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