DC’s NFL team needs to get away from red and apologize

Sometimes it is not only important what you do, but how you do it.

After 87 years, the Washington NFL team’s decision to end the use of a Native American racial slur as its name is being widely considered a good thing.

But the way the team made the announcement of the pending change is being criticized.

In a brief statement, the team announced it is retiring Redskins as its name once it selects a new name.

A name change by D.C.’s most popular sports franchise is something advocated for years by Kevin Blackistone, who has always been a fan of the team and is now with ESPN and The Washington Post, and is a professor at the University of Maryland.

Blackistone is one of the co-producers’ of a documentary film in production called “Imagining the Indian” about the movement to eradicate Native American names, logos and mascots in the world of sports and beyond. While Blackistone and the other filmmakers behind “Imagining the Indian” applaud the name change decision, there is concern over the team’s messaging.

“They don’t have a press conference so we can’t ask, Dan Snyder or any of the other executives about it,” said Blackistone.

“They turned out the press release on stationery with the logo emblazoned on it and the name that they’re getting rid of. There’s still some, some reckoning, I think to go on here. The only thing we know is that the 87-year-old nickname that is opprobrious will be gone.”

The buzz about potential new names for D.C.’s NFL team continues to heat up. Warriors, Red Tails, and Red Wolves are popular options rumored to be under consideration to be the team’s new name. Dan Snyder even considered using Warriors for an Arena Football League expansion franchise that he had the right to, but never activated.

“You know what is amazing to me is that we just can’t make a break from the imagery,” said Blackistone. “They have to hold on to the “R.” They want to hold on to the hashtag HTTR. To me, Red Wolves and Red Tails mimic what you were trying to get away from, and also just the idea of red, and what that means to native people also is a reminder of what you were and that’s not a clean enough break for me.”

Blackistone is an African American and fully understands that many view Red Tails as a way of honoring and celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen. ‘Red Tails’ was a nickname given to the Tuskegee Airmen the first Black aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Tuskegee Airmen themselves in a statement said they would be honored if the team selected Red Tails as its name, but Blackistone has a different view.

“It seems to me to be a bone that that the team’s executives and owners are throwing to Black fans as some way to placate us to make us feel better,” said Blackistone.

“I don’t need that and not only that, but it reminds me also of segregation. Sure the Tuskegee Airmen overcame great odds, but it also reminds me of the odds that they had to overcome.”

The changing of Washington’s NFL team is happening in 2020, but Blackistone said he believes it should have and could have happened much sooner.

Missing in the quest by so many to get the team to change its name was the NFL. The league with its billions of dollar of TV contracts could have put pressure on Snyder to force a name change.

“Certainly (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell could have pulled Dan Snyder aside and said, ‘We’ve got to make a change. We’ll help you make that change,’” said Blackistone. “We’ve seen it in the NBA. We have seen it in the NCAA with a ban on Native American names among its member schools.”

Blackistone also is looking to hear something he has not heard yet — an apology from the team and the NFL to Native Americans.

“This is a time to say, ‘You know what, we have erred,’” said Blackistone.

“Now we understand this is the time to say. ‘We’ve been through an educational process.’ But you’ve heard none of that, and that’s what makes this so disingenuous to me, so tone deaf.”

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up