THE WASHINGTON Redskins start their season tonight and, as most sports fans will attest, it is a time to think of endless possibilities. Let's hope that a new coach for offense and an aging quarterback make for a winning combination, that Clinton Portis's shoulder heals quickly and -- the biggest wish of all -- that the season ends with a January ride on the bandwagon. We share in the excitement, but in truth we also are embarrassed to embrace a team that is so terribly named.
This is not a new issue, nor is it the first time we have urged the change of a name that, as a check with the dictionary shows, is a racial slur. In the early 1990s, a group of Native Americans sued over the name, citing federal law prohibiting the registration of any trademark that disparages any race, religion or group. There's been new activity in this challenge, and once again the Redskins are on the defensive, advancing the argument that since the team and its fans don't intend to be racist, the nickname is not offensive.
We take team owner Daniel M. Snyder at his word that he sees the nickname as an honor, and we appreciate how hard it is to abandon well-loved traditions. By the same token, it really is not up to the offender to characterize the nature of the offense. We can't imagine Mr. Snyder, or anyone else for that matter, sitting in a room of Native Americans and referring to them as Redskins. Think about the recent uproar caused by the use of "macaca," a word whose meaning was never really defined.
While the Redskins -- and the rest of professional sports -- have dug in their heels, a nationwide movement has seen hundreds of schools and minor league professional clubs get rid of Indian team names -- with no adverse consequences. A local formula for success can be seen in the example set by Abe Pollin when, bothered by the high D.C. murder rate, he changed the name of his basketball team from Bullets to Wizards in 1997.
It probably is only a matter of time before a change will occur in pro football. Maybe it will be because the team loses its valuable trademark protections. Maybe it will be because some talented free agent doesn't want to play with a slur slapped on his back. Or maybe it will be because Mr. Snyder sees the financial and fan benefits of a new name with new merchandise. After all, the possibilities are endless.