I was born and raised 90 minutes outside our nation’s capital, deep in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Being so close to Washington, DC, it was only natural that the city’s professional sports teams were our de facto local sports teams. For instance, growing up, I watched a lot of Bullets games on HTS — remember the time Steve Javie famously ejected, like, the entire Bullets squad, including the mascot? Yeah, in the pre-League Pass era, I actually watched that in real time!
Needless to say, the most popular of Washington’s pro teams was also the most popular pro team in Luray, Virginia. And like most of the children of the 1980s who grew up there, I too was a fan.
It was kind of hard not to be a fan. In the early 80s, the ‘Skins were a transcendent football team, filled with larger-than-life characters like Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, Dexter Manley, Darrell Green, and local hero wide receiver Gary Clark — who played college ball at nearby James Madison University. Hell, the team was so popular that even their offensive line, lovingly referred to as “the Hogs,” had their own following!
Our family ran a Chinese restaurant in Luray. It was open everyday, but Sundays were special. Seemingly, the entire family would gather around the television in the back office. From 1pm until around 4:30 or so, the cheers and groans of immigrants-turned-dyed in the wool football fans could be heard from the kitchen to the dining room. Grown men and women singing “Hail to the Redskins” after every touchdown. What could be more American than that? I forgot the reason why, but one evening in 1983, future Hall of Famer John Riggins even stopped by for a meal.
As you can see, we were all thrilled to be in the presence of Riggo himself. I’m pretty sure this photo was taken sometime after Washington had secured the 1983 Lombardi trophy, so it was extra special to have a Super Bowl champ in our midst.
I look back at the early 80s with fond memories. More than football, this was the time of He-Man and G.I. Joe for me. Three decades later, I still long for the nostalgia of that time period. Hell, now that I’m an adult with disposable income, I spend a lot of it on items to help me recapture that nostalgia. (Believe it or not, He-Man action figures are more than $20 a pop now. Trust me, Mattel is fully aware of who their customer base is. Hint: they’re not five-year-olds anymore). I think that’s what fuels the fire in those fans who would defend the continued use of a racial slur for a football team’s nickname. People really don’t like their nostalgia tampered with. Just ask any longtime Marvel fanboy what they think about an African American Human Torch or an Asian American Iron Fist.
I stopped rooting for the ‘Skins at an early age. Even then, I knew there was something skeevy about the term “Redskins.” Also, the classic Dallas-Washington rivalry never made sense to me. Sure, they were in the same division, but what does Dallas and DC have to be rivals about? Other than the fact that it was grown-ups playing “Cowboys vs. Indians,” what was the point? Also — geographically speaking — Dallas shouldn’t even be in the NFC East.
Around the time I was eight years old, I discovered my own team full of larger than life players. I gravitated toward personalities like Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, and William “Refrigerator” Perry (he had his own G.I. Joe figure for crying out loud!) and pledged my allegiance to the Chicago Bears during the era of the “Super Bowl Shuffle” and haven’t looked back since.
The rest of my cousins and uncles remain ‘Skins fans to this day. On Sundays in the fall, my newsfeed is filled with posts about how RGIII will save the franchise, followed quickly with posts about how RGIII is the worst thing to ever happen to the franchise. And they will all vehemently defend the mascot and the nickname. That’s the part I will never understand. If Dan Snyder changed the name tomorrow, the team they rooted for and remember still remains. Why, other than nostalgia, would they want to cling to such a horrible word?
This is where my relationship to the Washington football team is not complicated. The same nostalgia that fuels fanboys to rage whenever a non-white person plays their favorite white superhero on screen is the same nostalgia that blinds otherwise reasonable people to defend an unreasonable nickname. Here’s the thing, though. If Snyder finally stopped digging in his heels and changed the name to, say, the Washington Pigskins, how many of these die-hard fans would abandon ship? Not many, I’d guess1 (and really, if a fan left because you got rid of a racist mascot/nickname, I’d say good riddance.) In fact, a name change might even increase the number of fans who claim Washington’s football team as their own.
Also, it just makes good business sense. Imagine all the new jerseys and memorabilia you could sell with the new logo. Besides, Washington is a sports town that is used to the nicknames of its sports teams changing. Their basketball team hasn’t been the Bullets in over a decade, and their baseball team hasn’t been the Senators in even more decades. But guess what, John Wall Wizards jerseys and Bryce Harper Nationals jerseys continue to fly off the racks.
At this point, stubbornness is the only thing preventing Snyder and his minions from seeing the light. That and nostalgia, and neither is an excuse for racism.
- Honestly, “Pigskins” makes the most sense. Not only does it reference something pertaining to football, but it also recalls the “Hogs” heyday of the 1980s. Win-win. ↩