Redskins and Respect: A Lifelong Washington Fan on Tradition

Copyright, NFL and Washington Redskins

Copyright, NFL and Washington Redskins

Some of my favorite early memories involve the Washington Redskins. For as long as I remember, I’ve watched games on Sundays. My father is a Washington, D.C. native who has been a fan of the team since they moved to town from Boston in 1937. I’ve watched the ‘Skins play with four generations of my family and, though I now live near a team that regularly makes the playoffs, my loyalty remains with my oft beleaguered Washington football team.

I’m telling you all this to say, in short, that I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. I love them. I love them when they are beating Dallas. I love them when they are winning playoff games. And I even love them when they are getting destroyed by the Broncos at Mile High, like they were this past Sunday. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Washington Redskins loyalist.

And I want them to change their name.

I can’t remember exactly when it struck me that the name “Redskins” had anything to do with race or skin color. I had no idea when I said my favorite team’s name that I was actually repeating what at least some Native Americans consider a racial slur. And the reality is that I think very few people who say the word “Redskins,” as it pertains to football, have conscious racist intent.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not racist. And enough Native Americans have stood up to tell those of us who do not share their heritage that it is, in fact, offensive. And that should be enough for us. Tessa McLean, who is a member of the Ojibwe Nation, recently told NBC News that the word “Redskins” is “a term that was created for proof of Indian kill.” In other words, a “Redskin” is proof that a Native American is dead. Which, when you think about it, is both pretty terrible, and pretty counterintuitive for a team that has appropriated Native American imagery.

To me, this is where the folks in the front office of the Redskins should stop and realize “maybe offending a group of people with a pejorative name based on their skin color is not only a bad business practice but, you know, just plain indecent.” But, as of now, that has not happened.

In fact, Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, has gone so far as to say that, “We’ll never change the name.” He also wrote in a letter addressing the matter that “Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.”

What’s odd to me about that is that the Redskins have made big changes in traditions before. For instance, the Redskins were the last professional football team to integrate, waiting until 1962 to do so. I’d like to think that we’ve come pretty far from that past. The team also changed the words to its fight song, “Hail to the Redskins” from “fight for all Dixie” to “fight for all D.C.,” another positive change.

And then there’s the part where they left Washington, D.C. and a stadium named for a champion of civil rights and moved to Maryland in a stadium named for… a package delivery company. So, clearly change is possible in the Redskins organization, even if it means that traditions and heritage are on the line.

I’m not sure what the real reluctance to change the name is about unless it’s the fact that no one in the Redskins front office cares enough about the offense they are causing to at least a significant portion of Native Americans. It’s not that there is a lack of other acceptable names. The Washington Post has suggested a slew of other names that capture the spirit of Washington, D.C. far better than “Redskins” ever has, for instance. Perhaps in a town filled with military personnel and government employees, a name that honored them would be more appropriate?

Pressure continues to build on the Redskins to change the name, coming from everywhere from Native American organizations, to newspapers and magazines refusing to use the team name in print, to the NFL itself. But the more a name change is called for, the more the team digs in its heals. Which makes me wonder, is anyone in the Redskins’ front office capable of seeing that this isn’t about being forced to change a tradition?

Changing the Redskins’ name is not an example of political correctness run amuck. It’s a testament to the fact that people deserve to be treated with respect. It’s common courtesy. And, for those of us who are people of faith, it’s also a matter of seeing the image of God in the other and refusing to use an offensive slur to name it. For me, this is a theological matter. This is about the basic business of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. And none of us, Mr. Snyder included I’m sure, likes to be characterized by a slur (even if the one saying it means no harm).

For now, though, I’m not holding my breath that the Redskins will be changing their name in the near future. I am, however, also not opening my wallet in order to buy anything with the Redskins name on it. I refuse to display it, whether on a hat or a sweatshirt, because I refuse to knowingly cause offense. I also refuse to contribute to an organization that won’t proactively change. Maybe other lifelong fans like me will choose the same route. And maybe, somehow, together we will send a message to Dan Snyder and the team that it’s time for a change.

When that change comes, I’ll be glad to line up at FedEx Field for tickets. And, more importantly, I’ll be proud to call myself a Washington football fan. And who knows… with this issue of the name resolved, maybe the team could spend a little more time concentrating on making it to the big game? That would be a return to tradition that every Washington fan could get behind.

Journey Through Advent – Day 22

photo copyright Bleacher Report

photo copyright Bleacher Report

Sunday afternoons are for football in my house. After church I come home, change into jeans and a sweatshirt, and wait for the games. It’s one of the few times in the week where I relax and do nothing other than watch TV.

But, really, I don’t actually relax much. Not this year, at least. You see, I’m a Washington Redskins fan. I have been my whole life. My family has cheered for them since they moved to my father’s hometown in 1937. And while I love them, the past twenty years or so have not been their finest. We haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1992. We haven’t even been in the playoffs since 2007.

But this year is different. We have a quarterback who connects, a team that works together, and momentum. Last week we moved into first place in the NFC East. My dad and I excitedly text and call each other throughout the games, holding out for a win. And then at the end of each Sunday, I can’t wait for the next one. I can’t wait to see if we are going to go all the way this year. Because, goodness knows, we’ve waited long enough.

Being a Washington football fan has taught me about waiting. And that’s good practice for Advent. Because Advent is all about waiting. It’s about waiting for Christmas eve, and the celebration of Christ’s birth. It’s about waiting for the world to be transformed by God’s love. It’s all about holy waiting and watching and preparing.

There’s a difference between football and Advent, though.

Try as I might, I can’t do anything to make my team win from my living room in Vermont. I can’t block. I can’t pass. I can’t sack the opposing team’s quarterback. Even as I hold my breath and wait for a completion, I can’t will the ball into the hands of the guy in the end zone.

But Advent is different. We aren’t watching Advent play out on TV. We aren’t even just sitting in the stadium. In Advent, we’re actually players on the field. We might not be Jesus, but we are preparing our world for Jesus. We are actively involved in transforming the world from a place of violence and hatred and pain to one of hope and joy and love and peace.

We cheer on Sundays for teams to advance a ball down a field in a game that, while fun to watch, doesn’t really change the world. But do we give the same amount of energy and excitement to something that can change the world? Do we do the work of peacemaking and the pursuit of justice the same level of attention and importance? Do we take the Advent message so seriously that, while maybe we aren’t donning jerseys and face paint, everyone who sees us will know who we really worship?

Advent is about perspective. It’s about looking at our lives and seeing what matters most. This afternoon I’ll watch the game. But tomorrow I hope that I cheer just as hard for something I can actually a part of. And then, I hope I suit up, and get out on that field. At its best, Advent can be a time when we make a choice to join the team, and to change the world. We don’t have to wait on the sidelines anymore.