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Hail to the Redskins? I'd Prefer Not

  • Nov 5, 2011
I'm not a politically correct person. In fact, I'm one of those pricks who takes immense pride in his built-in political incorrectness. I don't particularly care if a professional sports team decides to take its name after a race of people. That being said, I'll only stand for it if the name is harmless enough. The Cleveland Indians, the Boston Celtics, the Florida State Seminoles. The difference between a generic name like that and the NFL's Washington Redskins is that Redskin isn't exactly a harmless name. It was deployed specifically as an insult to American Indians. Chris Rock had a brilliant routine which explored the issue, including an excellent line which likened it to naming a sports team the Newark Niggers. Or, if I was to put it in a context which has been applied to myself, the Rutgers Retards. If I ever bought the Redskins, I would give them a quick, simple name change, and just to kill the complaining forever, the logo imagery would be replaced with crossed swords and a shield. I expect that once the complaining died down, generations of football fanatics would grow up loving the Washington Warriors and not being able to imagine them with any other name. It has a nice ring to it.

(Noted: A Sports Illustrated poll surveyed American Indians and found that 75 percent of them don't have a problem with teams named after them. The results of the poll were criticized by activist groups for SI's refusal to give them certain polling information like how participants were recruited, were they were located, if certain groups were more represented than others, and how the questions were asked. In 2004, the University of Pennsylvania's Annenburg Public Policy Center surveyed American Indians across 48 states on the same subject, setting out very exacting wording for the questions. The results were indeed different: 91 percent were okay with it.)

This issue isn't the only racial issue which got the Washington Redskins into hot water. The NFL, like Major League Baseball, started out as an integrated league. But it was Redskins owner George Preston Marshall who, upon forming the Redskins in 1932, openly banned black players from his team and pressured other owners to ban black players from the league. In 1933, the other owners followed suit, and the NFL stayed segregated until 1945. Even then, as his team underwent one hell of a decline, Marshall held out on integration. He didn't allow the team to be integrated until 17 years later, in 1962, and only under the threat of federal intervention. It was the first time in history the government had to force the integration of a sports franchise.

Today the Redskins are trying to be the New York Yankees of the NFL - a glamor team with a massive payroll which is trying to win by buying all the best players. The blame for this can be largely laid at the feet of current owner Daniel Snyder and his lackey and former general manager Vinny Cerrato. Snyder bought the team in 1999, and the team actually did pretty well that year, winning a playoff appearance with a 10-6 record. Sadly, though, the Redskins have only been in the playoffs three times during Snyder's tenure, which kind of makes them the New York Mets of the NFL. It isn't as if Snyder hasn't been trying - he's been bringing old veterans like Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders, and at one point he even hired Joe Gibbs to coach. While not exactly successful, the Redskins did actually improve in the Gibbs II years.

Speaking of Joe Gibbs, he's one reason why Redskins fans still hang on to their team despite all the embarrassment. Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach and an offensive mastermind whose first go-round with the team is really something to behold. He was signed in 1981 as head coach and took the team to its first Super Bowl victory in 1982. During his stint, he won Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991, and made it to the Super Bowl in 1983 but lost to the Los Angeles Raiders. He is the only coach to win the Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks. The 1982 victory and 1983 run were directed under center by Joe Theismann, who was well on his way to a spot in Canton before a very nasty collision with Lawrence Taylor ended his playing career. In 1987, Doug Williams led the Redskins, and they partially made up for their old racial crimes when Williams became the first - and still the only - black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. In 1991, it was Mark Rypien anchoring football's most important position.

If you like good quarterbacking, it's important to note the Redskins were the team that completely revolutionized the position and turned it into what it is today. Passing wasn't always such an integral part of football; in fact, it was only legalized in 1906, after 18 on-field deaths and and 159 serious injuries in 1905. Basically, it was legalized for safety concerns. Even after it was legalized, it was used sparingly only as a surprise attack which would hopefully throw the other team off its guard. But in 1937, the Redskins drafted quarterback Sammy Baugh, who was the perfect piece to carry out their revolutionary new offense: Instead of passing as a surprise, the Redskins under Baugh used the pass as an attack, their primary method of gaining yards. Under Baugh, the team won its first two titles (1937, 1942) and generally performed very strongly for the time Baugh was in Washington, making the title game in 1940, 1943, and 1945. On the worse end of things, the 1940 game remains the biggest blowout in NFL history: Washington was beat by the Chicago Bears 73-0. The game came a week after the Redskins won a close, 7-0 game against Chicago. At one point, with the Bears up 7-0, Baugh threw a surefire touchdown pass to receiver Charlie Moore which Moore dropped. When asked if the outcome would have been different had Moore scored the touchdown, Baugh responded with one of the all-time great quips in football history: "Sure. The final score would have been 73-7."

The Redskins have certainly been a very successful NFL team, but they surprisingly haven't been as successful as one would expect. The five titles I mentioned in this article are the only five they've ever won, and they were won over two separate ten-year periods throughout their history. The first was the Sammy Baugh era, where they were regular visitors in the championship from 1936 to 1945. After 1945, they didn't even make the playoffs again until 1971. They did get to the Super Bowl in 1972, only to fall to the perfect season Miami Dolphins. Gibbs guided them to four Super Bowl appearances and three victories from 1982 to 1991. After that, the team kind of imploded.

The Redskins, in spite of everything, are on the NFL's A-list. They have the highest payroll, and are second in profitability only to the Dallas Cowboys. (I await the jumping of social critics onto this fact.) They were the first NFL team to have their own fight song, and their fan base stretches far and wide. The Redskins have also been one of the league's ambassador teams and have played a handful of regular season games overseas in order to promote the league. I occasionally read blogs written by Europeans who are fans of American sports, and one of the most impressive I've seen is written by a Redskins diehard who lives in England.

The Redskins play in one of the most storied divisions in the NFL: The NFC East. This division also contains some very serious football luminaries: The division's new kid on the block is none other than so-called America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, who are Washington's great blood rival. The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles also see the Redskins twice every season, and none of those teams like each other very much.

One thing the Redskins can always boast is one of the coolest color combinations in all of professional sports: They take the gridiron wearing a deep shade of red called burgundy, with gold accents. This combination has become so identifiable and iconic that the team is actually nicknamed The Burgundy and Gold. I believe colors are more important to a team's popularity than one would expect. Sure, if you live in an area that is strictly aligned with a certain team, you're going to follow them no matter what. But what about all those fans in the middling states who just pick the team that resonates with them the most? Teams compete for fans in those areas, and if you want fans to rock your team's colors, they can't look like idiots.

Things aren't looking up for the current crop of Redskins, even despite Mike Shanahan, their new coach who guided the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl titles. And truthfully, I wanted to like the Redskins more than I did. I kept them as a dark horse candidate to replace the Bills when they leave Buffalo, but doing the research for this article put me off for good. Still, they're saved from the absolute depth by the fact that they antagonize the Dallas Cowboys, which is always worth a few points with me.

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The Washington Redskins participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Landover, Maryland. Washington plays its games in the East of the NFC. The Washington Redskins, founded in 1932, play home games at FedExField and have won five NFL Titles (1937, 1942, 1982, 1987, 1991).
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