The Team From D.C.

I started a piece about Thanksgiving, and gratitude and all that stuff a couple of days ago but it just didn’t sound very Contrarian so I dumped it. Then I began facing the fact that I was drawing a blank this week, which is no big deal since I am my own boss. Which leads me to the protest I ran into at this afternoon’s Colts game regarding the name of the team we creamed today.

Members of the local chapter of the American Indian Movement were gathered outside Lucas Oil Stadium today protesting the use of the word “Redskins” and it’s use as the team mascot of the team from Washington. Albert Running Wolf was leading the group and says that the word “Redskin” is a racial slur. He goes on to describe one version of the source of the word:

“(when the first settlers) would kill our people, they would actually skin us. When those skins would be let out to dry in the sun, they would be stained red with blood, and that was where they got the term redskins from.”

That is absolutely offensive.

The protest though has lots of problems. Today’s group had one sign that said “yellowskin, blackskin, redskin, it’s all bad.” That would be a departure from Running Wolf’s word origin perspective, albeit a sign with which I agree. And it is also a clear indicator of the lack of unity within the ranks of those protesting.

Here is another indicator:

I grew up in Virginia until 1980, and though I have been fighting maturity in Indiana ever since, my childhood memories are vivid on this one. I had next door neighbors in the small town I am from who were full blooded Cherokee Indians. Their favorite NFL team: the Washington Redskins. The two younger kids in their family were close to my age and we grew up playing football together in my back yard. Their youngest boy played quarterback on my youth team. We all loved football and the Redskins were their team. They had the jerseys, the jackets, everything. The point being, not every Native American is offended by the team name, and many that are have likely become offended more recently than they care to admit.

Anyway, it is going to be difficult for this protest to get moving because nothing apparently is new, except the new unhappiness over it. The team is 82 years old. The complaining is much younger. The first complaint was filed in federal court in 1992 claiming the term was too offensive to be protected by patent law. This original suit was decided in favor of the team in 2003. In June of this year however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademark because it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” The team has appealed the decision. Polling on the issue shows that 71% of the American public thinks the team should be able to keep their name.

It is important to note that this controversy involves a sports team from Washington DC. This is the same “town” that is home to the NBA’s Wizards. Let’s not forget that the Wizards used to be the Bullets. But after the crack cocaine wave of the end of the 20th Century turned the nation’s Capitol into a war zone, it was decided a team named “Bullets” was sending the wrong message. And while I agree a name change there needed to happen, I would hate to play for the Harry Potters of the league. Just sayin…

So let me opine on this since that is what I do. There are three areas of free advice here:

First to the team: 71% of the public is OK with the name as it is. That means 29% are not. That’s good enough for me if I am in the marketing department trying to grow my brand. If a business can grow its potential sales target by that margin with a name change and grows it zero by staying the same, it’s a no brainer. Make that one vote for the name change.

Next to the protesters: if you want to be mad about something, make it clear to all the people who aren’t mad WHY you are mad. The movement needs a defining moment, entity or person. I assume it is there, but it is not readily apparent to the masses. Form consensus on your anger and speak with a unified voice about it. Don’t confuse the message on those that are embracing apathy–that is a sure fire way to solidify a lack of momentum. I am, however, convinced that those of you who are angry will not give up and that is also good enough for me. The 29% number will grow, not shrink. That’s two votes for the name change.

Third, there is absolutely no harm in changing the name. Again, if I am in the marketing department, I am slobbering over an opportunity to rebrand a team that is in a league that can’t lose. The Titans, The Ravens, and even the “new” Browns all did pretty well on the rebrand. Jump at the chance–it’s a sure thing. Remember, your existing fans are gonna buy all the new stuff as well, unless your existing fans only root for you because of your insensitivity. They will stand by you. That’s three votes to change it.

In summary to team owner Daniel Snyder, who loves gambling, this is a sure bet. The Native American community wants you to change the damn name. Just do it. Do it for them. It’s a reasonable request. And you will make a fortune doing it.

Oh, and to the 28 year old marketing director that gets to lead this project: change the name to the Washington Americans. Don’t change anything but the name. Even the colors are good. If Snyder believes the team is a tribute to Native Americans, let’s really make it one.

Final score today, 49-27 Colts. The team from Washington is terrible. Timing is everything on a rebrand…so…how about….now!