Before even signing a single free agent or using the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins are already in the midst of an offseason that ranks among the most monumental in their 87-year history.
Speaking as a man of color, there’s nothing hyperbolic about that statement. With Monday’s hiring of Jennifer King as a full-year coaching intern and the addition of her boss, head coach Ron Rivera, last month, the Redskins have their first female coach and first minority head coach in full-time capacities at a pivotal time for NFL coaches of color.
The Redskins, however, are far from trailblazers.
Bruce Arians had two women on his staff in Tampa Bay last season, and is the only head coach to hire minorities for all three coordinator positions (including H.D. Woodson graduate Byron Leftwich).
San Francisco’s Katie Sowers is still only days removed from becoming the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl.
Furthermore, King coached under Rivera in Carolina the last two offseasons, so it’s not like this groundbreaking hire was made by Dan Snyder himself. But, we’re accustomed to the Redskins floundering and making wrong decisions, so it’s worthy of applause, even if they’re late to the diversity party.
And given ownership’s stubborn refusal to change the team’s increasingly-unacceptable nickname and the franchise’s inextricable link with racism, it shouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion that this day would ever come.
Rivera’s power is as obvious as it is unprecedented, but let’s clear up King’s role: The “intern” label within the coaching realm means more than it does other fields. It’s a paid position best described as an assistant to an assistant coach. Per the news release, King will be heavily involved in coaching up the running backs, and if Derrius Guice has a breakout season anything close to what Christian McCaffrey did in Carolina last year, it’ll be another impressive entry on King’s resume.
King, lauded for her high football IQ as a professional player and along her rapid rise through the coaching ranks, matters so much beyond the gridiron. My daughters can look at this strong, accomplished black woman on an NFL sideline and know they belong there, too, if they so choose. Representation is important.
Which is why the Redskins’ next move should include a new team name.
I’m not one for superstition, but if the franchise’s culture change is going to bring about a change of fortunes, it’ll need all the positive momentum it can get. Nothing they do on a football field could be more impactful than divorcing itself from a name that is, at best, outdated and, at worst, blatantly racist.
Changing the name to something that better reflects the city it represents (Americans? Warriors, which Snyder already got the rights to?) — and, perhaps, also a slight change to the color scheme that more closely aligns with the rest of D.C.’s professional sports franchises — will go a long way toward establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with in the 2020s and beyond, not a has-been franchise still clinging to the accomplishments of yesteryear like Uncle Rico.
It’s great that the Redskins have added another qualified minority coach in the pipeline at a time when the league desperately needs it. But we can only revel in their contribution to breaking the glass ceiling if they move this decades-old dark cloud from over Native Americans.
Who knows? If the Redskins take a commitment to diversity and inclusion all the way, maybe they further follow the 49ers’ script to a Super Bowl for King’s next landmark achievement.