They never had to be the hypocrite their father was. They never questioned the name internally, only to let it go with the lame explanation, “That’s just the way it’s always been.”
So after the longest fight ended with a sudden knockout, my prevailing emotion was relief. It’s over. There is an opportunity not just to move on, but to move ahead. We’ll see if Daniel Snyder can seize it as he ponders a new name. I’m skeptical, but it is there for him.
This isn’t an effort to erase the past. It is refurbishing the franchise and making it appropriate for the future. History is permanent, but historical understanding doesn’t have to be static. The hope should be that, as time passes, we grow.
Sports fans love tradition. We remain rigid in our expectations out of tradition. We balk at change out of tradition. Sometimes, we toss aside critical thinking because of tradition. Jiddu Krishnamurti, a philosopher from India, once said, “Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure, it is in decay.”
Even as someone who supported changing the name, I have some sympathy for fans devastated by Snyder being forced to re-brand. Some people just don’t get the rationale, and it does not automatically make them racist. It does not necessarily make them unconcerned about the perspective of Native American activists who have dedicated much of their lives to calling for change. It just makes them die-hards who bought into what was presented to them as innocuous — the name of a football team, nothing else. They attached memories to it, nostalgia set in, and next thing you know, the thorny idea that a racial slur could be reclaimed seeped into their everyday fandom, unchallenged.
That’s how something as clear as the need to get rid of a slur leads to ludicrous retorts such as, “But what about our fight song?”
The danger is that racism and other prejudices leech onto these names, traditions, statues and symbols. They become labs to create implicit bias. Then when people get up the nerve to challenge their existence, they discover that blind loyalty already controls the public perception.
And both the defeated and unaware say, “That’s just the way it’s always been.”
One side is fuming. The other is shrugging.
When talking about the Washington football team, I won’t have to say that to my boys. For them, it is one less struggle they will have with the nation. Growing up, I loved watching “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It was the perfect country show for a good ol’ boy born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. It also aged like an open can of soda. Looking at that show as an adult, I cringe at the Confederate flag painted on the roof of the Duke boys’ car, which was unapologetically named the General Lee. It was a flagrant use of pop culture to normalize a part of Southern culture that doesn’t need to be celebrated. “The Dukes of Hazzard” made it all cool, even for a young black boy. Andy Warhol and Marshall McLuhan were right: Art is anything you can get away with.
Over the past five years, in the aftermath of Dylann Roof’s Charleston, S.C., church massacre, the reruns of that television show have all but disappeared. More Confederate flags are coming down throughout the South, and protesters have torn down statues, too. One side is fuming. The other is shrugging.
Certainly there are blind spots we have now that will seem like ridiculous oversights to future generations. When they identify those things, they should opt for revision over acceptance. It took too long for Washington football to take this step, but at least it is happening. With pressure from all angles, Snyder is making a business decision, not a moral one.
Still, the change is a relief. I’m not sure Snyder’s process is open and inclusive enough to maximize all the potential goodwill and marketing opportunities of this re-branding. Perhaps we’ll get to see another side of him. Perhaps we’ll see nothing more than symmetrical dysfunction.
The one thing you can guarantee: Speaking in absolutes is out. “NEVER — you can use caps” was a lie. And “the way it’s always been” is no more. The return of flexibility, in approach and conversation, is another welcome change.
One day, when my boys actually pay attention to me and understand my profession, they might want to know more about the proud Washington football franchise that Snyder has turned infamous. And I will help them learn the unvarnished history — all of it, the wins and the woes. When the old name comes up, we will have a heck of a conversation about sports and respect for Native Americans.
But for them, the name will never be an internalized way of life. It will be just some really mind-boggling thing that people argued about for too long when the right thing was so clear.
On this issue, age comes with an increased potential for being conflicted. That is the problem with normalizing the inappropriate. It makes right and wrong become fuzzy, indistinguishable. It can convince you to suspend critical thinking for decades and decades.
As the Washington [Redacteds] forge their new reality, they are not breaking from the past. They are cushioning it with context. They are, we must hope, preventing the decay of more minds.
Only the new name will resonate with my boys. At long last, another piece of entangled racism is free to die.