I’m not a big believer that every new development in our society carries the same significance that, say, walking on the moon or electing our first Black president did. So forgive me for not regarding Monday morning’s official news that Washington’s NFL franchise would change its name as a topic worthy of triumphal celebration or deep cultural and philosophical rumination.
A sports team will be called something else. This has happened before, and it will happen again. The New York Yankees weren’t always the New York Yankees. They were, once upon a time, the New York Highlanders, and they became the Yankees only after a newspaper’s sports editor started referring to them as such because the word “Yankees” fit better into a headline. The Eagles merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1943 to form the Steagles; World War II had so drained football’s talent pool that neither franchise would have had enough players to field a team on its own. The following year, the Eagles were back to being the Eagles, the Steelers were back to being the Steelers, and the world managed to keep turning.
Team names have changed for a variety of reasons under a variety of circumstances. Proud franchises with strong civic ties have relocated. The Colts left Baltimore. The Browns left Cleveland, then came back. The Raiders left Oakland, then came back to Oakland, then left again. Less-proud franchises with weaker civic ties went defunct. Anyone remember the Boston Yanks? Please, let’s keep this latest moment of relative upheaval in its proper perspective. We only show off our own ignorance when we consider something to be unprecedented when it isn’t.
The circumstances of this particular development are obvious. After maintaining for years that he would never allow or abide by a change of the franchise’s name, owner Daniel Snyder bowed to pressure not from the team’s fans or Native Americans or the media or a woke mob on Twitter, but from the franchise’s wealthiest and most influential patrons. “We want to keep our sponsors, fans and community apprised of our thinking as we go forward,” Snyder said in a statement, and the order of that list accurately reflected his priorities in making this decision. Even FedEx, the longtime holder of the naming rights to the team’s stadium, formally requested a change.
So the team in Washington will have a new moniker, reportedly within a couple of weeks, and in the spirit of harmony and unity that surely will characterize whatever the franchise’s new name turns out to be, here are a few suggestions.
This would be a name that every realistic/cynical student of American political history could appreciate. And if Ron Rivera, the team’s head coach, manages to elevate its defense into one of the NFL’s best, the descriptive possibilities for any media member broadcasting or covering a game would be endless and appropriate: Four times from inside the 5-yard line, the Giants tried to penetrate the Washington Bureaucracy, and they couldn’t do it!
Just like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant musical, this nickname would honor America’s revolutionary spirit, the beliefs that made its founding special, and the pride its citizens have in their homeland. This is your shot, Mr. Snyder. Don’t throw it away.
Kirk Cousins twice used the NFL franchise tag to extract a sizable one-year salary from Washington – $20 million in 2016 and $24 million in 2017 – then parlayed that gamble into a three-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings in which the deal’s entire sum, $84 million, was guaranteed. What better way to honor the man who truly “owned” the franchise in recent years?
Among those who didn’t want to use the franchise’s former nickname because of its offensiveness, this potential solution probably already has some purchase. Plus, it would be smart business to try to appeal to the millions of once, current, and future Harry Potter obsessives out there in the marketplace. My sons, ages 9 and 6, recently discovered J.K. Rowling’s tomes and now can think and speak of nothing else, so I feel qualified to say this: Trust me, Danny. Go with this one, and your team will have at least two fans for life.
The only problem with this choice is its implication that the franchise would capture the country’s attention intensely for a brief period of time, then get really strange, then be completely forgotten. Just like Robert Griffin III.
Naming the team after the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-Black group of Air Force pilots and bombers from World War II, has emerged as a favorite option among the public. It would be a laudable acknowledgment of the pilots’ heroism and place in history, and it would be a more prominent memorial within the popular culture than the mediocre 2012 film Red Tails. (Jeez, it was all downhill for Cuba Gooding Jr. after Jerry Maguire, wasn’t it?)