By: Joe Pohoryles
Hail to the Redskins.
For nearly 90 years, football fans in Washington have echoed the fight song celebrating the Washington Redskins’ triumphs. It is still played at FedEx Field after every touchdown. The Redskins’ fan culture was so prominent in the glory days of the 1980s that high schools across the country began adopting the Redskins name for their sports teams.
Redskins, Indians, and other (often derogatory) names for Native American people have been used as mascots at all levels of play, and was among the more popular team names nationally. Since 2013, however, the number of high schools using the name ‘Redskins’ has dropped 20 percent, according to a 2018 AP News study.
Every year, more high schools abandon these names, as the controversy surrounding them has increased. Over 115 organizations and Native American tribes have spoken out against the Washington Redskins’ name, calling for a change, according to a 2010 report by the American Psychological Association. Hundreds of other local movements around the country have led to other teams to change their name.
After a 2016 Washington Post poll found nine out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins’ name, despite all the movements to change it, it became abundantly clear that many Native Americans embraced the team name, many were offended by it, and many others were indifferent.
Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder has claimed he will never change the name, and that the name is not meant to offend, but rather it “really means honor, respect,” as he told ESPN in a 2014 interview.
For awhile, I did not want the name to change because of the franchise’s history, and what the name meant in NFL lore. Now, looking back at the past 20 years, the state of the franchise is arguably more offensive than the team name itself. I don’t blame Native Americans for not wanting to be associated with what has been among the biggest embarrassments in professional sports.
All jokes aside, I agree a group of people should not be used as a mascot, especially under a derogatory name. A name change would not erase the franchise’s history. Look across town at our NBA team. The Washington Bullets changed to the Washington Wizards to be more sensitive to the increase in gun violence in DC. Yet the best memories of those Bullets are remembered fondly by today’s Wizards fans. The only thing that changed was the team name.
It seems like the Redskins’ name will never change, but if Snyder ever changes his mind and begins fielding suggestions, I will make my proposal here.
The Washington Red Storm
I gotta give St. John’s University (NY) credit here, as it’s their team name that inspired me. The school was under similar controversy to the Redskins, as they used to be the St. John’s Redmen. While the name officially referenced the colors of their jerseys, the school did have a mascot designed to look like a Native American in the 1960s, and the name eventually changed to Red Storm in the 1990s to be more sensitive to Native Americans.
Another alternative that has been brought up for the Redskins is the name ‘Warriors.’ I’m not opposed to it, it’s a fine name. It certainly does a better job of putting Native Americans in an honorable light, and is generic enough to disassociate from Native Americans as a mascot entirely, should they ever go that route (and in my opinion, they should). My only issue with it is it would require changing more than just the team name.
There are two major parts of the team’s culture that would have to change if the team became the Warriors. The fight song “Hail to the Redskins,” would have to change. Maybe I’m nit-picky, but “Hail to the Warriors,” just does not have the same ring to it. The syllables are different, and even if you pronounce it as “War-yurs,” it sounds awkward, and just wrong. The abbreviation HTTR would also have to change. Whether it’s used in a hashtag or spoken aloud, those four letters mean a lot to Redskins fans. But HTTW? Come on people, what are we doing?
Neither of these issues exist with ‘Red Storm’ as the name, at least not to the same degree. To me, “Hail to the Red Storm,” fits much better into the fight song. The first syllable remains ‘Red-‘ and the second syllable starts with an ‘s.’ That’s about as close as you can get. Maybe the other lyrics would need to be tinkered slightly, (braves on the warpath becomes braves on the storm path? I don’t know, just spitballing), but honestly, the rest of the lyrics don’t matter as much. They could be left as is, and I don’t think anyone would really care. The main thing is keeping the “Hail to the Redskins,” part as similar as possible, and I believe ‘Red Storm’ does the best job for that.
HTTR would also apply to the team just the same. ‘Red Storm’ may be two words, but it doesn’t have to change to HTTRS, HTTR gets the same message across. Unlike ‘Warriors,’ the Red Storm would allow the rally cry to survive.
With a name like the Red Storm, the color scheme can remain the same. Changing the name is one thing, completely altering the team colors would be a much more drastic change. Burgundy and Gold fits well, as the gold represents the lightning and the burgundy could represent the clouds, which would presumably be red in a “Red Storm.” Either way, keeping the colors the same is crucial to making the change less jarring, and the Red Storm name fits the existing colors well.
The Red Storm is not a common mascot, but there are definitely more obscure names out there. (Two major American sports franchises are named after years. Specific years! Not one, two!) Weather-related team names are not unprecedented, either. The NBA has the Oklahoma City Thunder, the WNBA has the Seattle Storm and the NHL has the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes. In the NCAA, the University of Miami (FL) teams are also the Hurricanes, so the college/professional name-sharing isn’t unheard of either.
The current logo depicting the Native American would no longer apply to the ‘Red Storm,’ so the team would have to go about finding a new logo, which could be much easier than it seems. They could re-use their previous ‘R’ logo that legendary coach Joe Gibbs would always wear on his hat.
The Cleveland Indians just recently stopped using their infamous “Chief Wahoo” logo and have started using their ‘C’ logo exclusively. While Chief Wahoo was a more offensive, caricatured depiction of a Native American than the Redskins’ logo, and desperately needed to be removed, the Redskins could still opt to go the same route with their logo and re-adopt the golden ‘R.’
Or they could design something completely new and different. Perhaps it could consist of actual storm clouds, or burgundy and gold lightning bolts, similar to the mock-up I made. Getting a team of professionals to design a great-looking logo should be the start. Perhaps they could release some designs to the public and have fans vote on the best one. Allowing fans to choose the logo would certainly make the transition less contentious, giving the fans a voice in the process. The options are endless.
Looking from the ownership’s perspective, a new logo would mean a whole bunch of new-look merchandise that die-hard fans would want to purchase to update their wardrobe, which would mean a decent influx in revenue. If we have learned anything about Snyder in his 20+ years as owner, that may be the biggest selling point for him.
This whole argument may be moot. As long as Snyder is in charge, I have little faith anything about the team will change, but if the franchise ever decides to leave its controversial name behind, I believe they should re-emerge and create a new legacy as the Washington Red Storm.
It’s a better name than DC’s XFL team, anyway.