The Redskins' new owner, Daniel Snyder, seems determined to be a great NFL owner. He has identified "winning football" as his goal and the measure of his success.
As a Redskin devotee, I'm with him on that one. But winning will not be the only test of the "greatness" of Snyder's leadership. There is that pesky "other" issue -- you know, the name of the team.
Changing the name is heretical to some fans, who speak of the team's traditions and legacy. But the team's "legacy" is not just about football. The Redskins' name is linked to a national legacy of racism and cultural insensitivity. Indeed one hundred years from now the "Redskins" may be remembered not so much for their successes on the football field but rather seen as a remnant of a racist past.
Now the Redskins organization is not the only professional sports team that is challenged in this way. But "Redskins" has to be the most racially offensive and insensitive name in all of professional sports. By clinging to tradition, we preserve as a matter of common parlance a name that would be considered a racial epitaph in most any other setting. The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board even canceled the federal trademark protection of the team's name on the grounds that the term "Redskins" is disparaging to Native Americans.
This town has known the kind of leadership it takes to change the name of a professional sports team. Several years ago Abe Pollin, professing concern that the name of his basketball team -- "the Bullets" -- rang of street violence, renamed the team the Wizards. Admittedly, the Wizards don't stir the same passions as our cherished football team. But the justification for changing the Redskins' name is more compelling than the reason for renaming the Bullets.
My suggestion to Snyder is not to close the door on this question. Do what other policymakers do when they face a potentially unpopular but just choice -- establish a focus group to look at options, do some polling and then take a look at what you've got.
One thing is clear. At some point the name of this football team will be changed. And who knows, maybe getting a new name that can enjoy trademark protection will turn out to be a good business move.
In any case, the owner who presides over the change will be a "great" owner indeed. The question is, will it be Daniel Snyder?
-- Scott Cole Fulton