Matt Bai: Time for the Redskins to get more offensive

July 10, 2014

Dear Dan Snyder:

I read with dismay the other day about the latest blow to your storied football franchise, the Washington Redskins. It seems you hired a liberal blogger named Ben Tribbett to defend the team against growing calls to change its controversial name, and this Tribbett quit the cause after just two weeks, citing personal attacks against him on Twitter and Facebook that distracted from the important business of protecting the Redskin tradition.

I have to tell you that this saddens me for our nation, Mr. Snyder. Who ever heard of a blogger turning down an actual paycheck? And if a guy can’t turn to social media for reasoned, dispassionate debate without having it degenerate into name-calling and distortion, then, by God, where can he turn?

In any event, I am writing to respectfully offer myself up for the job. You need a strategy, Mr. Snyder, and I believe I can help.

Let me first be direct about this, one paleface to another: Your critics are winning. They turned you into the butt of jokes in March, after you wrote that open letter to “Redskins Nation” saying that you or your staff had visited no less than 26 Native American reservations on a sensitivity tour. They ruthlessly mocked your plan to pacify Native American resistance by doling out money and drinking water, even though I watched a lot of “F Troop” as a kid, and I’m pretty sure that’s worked before.

Then you suffered another setback in the public relations war when the U.S. patent office canceled six of the team’s patents, saying the name was offensive and shouldn’t be afforded copyright protection. This means that anyone can now sell Redskins hats and T-shirts without even licensing the name, which would be a real problem, except that you and I both know that no kid really wants to buy merchandise from a perennial loser whose team colors are medical-waste red and jaundice yellow. It’s like wearing the Ebola virus.

But make no mistake: This battle isn’t over yet. Our country’s oldest institutions don’t change just because evolving social attitudes create popular pressure that can’t be ignored. I mean, look at all that hoopla over gay marriage. It’s not like anyone’s jumping aboard that train all of a sudden, right?

No, what you need to do, Mr. Snyder, is go on the offensive, rather than simply being offensive. People always need some politically incorrect scapegoat, some cultural symbol they can kick around for being insufficiently sensitive. And if you don’t want that symbol to be your Redskins, then you’ve got to give them some other piñata to poke at.

Other sports teams are a great place to start. Why should the Redskins get scalped when you’ve got all these other Native American mascots? Braves fans do so much ay-ay-aying in Atlanta that no buffalo would come within 200 miles of the place, and I don’t see anybody there visiting reservations and handing out blankets. Granted, if you’re Cleveland, you don’t have a lot of good options for team names to replace the Indians. This is a city that calls its football team the Browns. Why isn’t anybody offended by that?

And how about the Vancouver Canucks? We drove Ed Muskie out of the presidential race in 1972 just for allegedly using the word (he didn’t), and here’s an entire hockey team skating around wearing it on their jerseys, like a giant middle finger.

How do you think a certain segment of Somalis feels about the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Oakland Raiders? How about the two professional teams known as the Giants? For your information, coastal elites, gigantism is a serious condition, often accompanied by circulatory or skeletal problems. It’s in Wikipedia.

And since we’re on the subject, shouldn’t the Los Angeles Lakers take a long look in the mirror? No, the name isn’t culturally insensitive, but I’m just saying, it’s offensively inane. There isn’t a lake worth mentioning for a hundred miles around. That’s like renaming Washington’s team the “Statesmen.”

But this isn’t just about sports teams. The Redskins are an American icon, and there are plenty of other beloved icons in the culture that seem to get a free pass while you, sir, buckle under the burden of social progress. Take, for instance, Ronald McDonald, with his unkempt orange hair and big, bulbous clown nose. Is that supposed to be an Irish guy? And have you ever actually watched Super Mario Brothers? They make the Sopranos look like a training video for cultural sensitivity.

Then there’s the much-loved story of a reindeer named Rudolph, who’s going to ruin Christmas with his problematic nose, and who’s sent away, in the movie versions, because he wants to date the coach’s all-American daughter, so instead he leaves town with an aspiring dentist named Hermey. If that’s not anti-Semitism, I really don’t know what is.

We can at least buy you some time here if we tip the conversation in a different direction. And that’s all you can really hope to get in the end: a little more time.

Because the thing is, Dan — can I call you Dan? — sooner or later, no matter how long you hold it off, you’re likely going to have to change the name of this team, or maybe sell it to someone who will. That’s not just because we’ve grown into a country that no longer considers it useful or polite to make emblems of people based on the pigment of their skin. It’s also because your football franchise — unlike the Braves or the Blackhawks — just feels like one big nostalgia trip. You’ve so mismanaged it at this point that when people think of the Redskins, they think back to the glory days of the 1970s; the logo itself takes us back to the time of Archie Bunker and Phyllis Schlafly.

And no one wants to go back to those days of bigotry and bullying. We’re a country that moves forward, if not always in a straight line.

So you might as well start thinking about a new name, something historically resonant and close enough to the original so you won’t have to change too much. How about the “Washington Red Scare?” You think the Nationals have something going with that adorable Teddy Roosevelt mascot. Imagine how wild people will go when Joe McCarthy chases a bunch of Russians all over the field, under the logo of a wiretapped phone.

What could be more Washington than that.                  

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