As if Washington did not have enough to contend with during the 14 days of the government shutdown; there is yet another crisis brewing for the beloved Washington sports team that has brought unity and spirit to the city for over 80 years. There is a growing national movement to force the D.C. icon to change its name.
What is in a name? Well, in small business a name is a brand and the brand known as the Washington Redskins can be found on everything from coffee cups, to seat covers, to t-shirts and even underwear. Washington loves this team with a passion that most business owners dream of having from loyal customers.
With the economic turmoil caused by the government shutdown the timing of the most recent cries for the franchise to change its name is not the best time. However, calls for social justice seldom stop for the best time. The Washington franchise that owns the team is a business that employees hundreds of people. The emotion that surrounds asking a team to change its name is not based on a business decision.
In 2007 Northeastern (Oklahoma) State University was faced with the same dilemma facing the Washington Redskins. Native Americans felt that the mascot and nickname for Northeastern was an insult to Native Americans. The Female Seminary that existed in the place before Northeastern was founded by Native Americans in 1846 and was purchased by the Oklahoma legislature on March 6, 1909.
Although Northeastern used the Redmen mascot for over 80 years all of that came to an end beginning with the NCAA ban in 2005 which forbid the use of Native American mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments. As the voice of the Redmen in the fall of 1975, the present writer followed the name change controversy very closely.
The Washington Redskins were first the Boston Braves in 1932 before the team relocated to Washington. The team owner was from West Virginia and wanted to make the team popular to the South. Since there were no professional football teams in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, the Washington Redskins became the NFL team most closely aligned with the South.
As people attended the closing ceremony for the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure on Sunday October 13, 2013, many passed by a marker that paid tribute to the man who brought the Boston Braves to D.C. George Preston Marshall made the team the first in the NFL to have a season television broadcast. However, the times were different in 1932.
Northeastern used a figure of a Native American on its sports teams and literature. Native Americans were observed as being a vital part of what was Northeastern Oklahoma State University from 1975 until 1984 even though the term Redmen appeared on all of their university related material. As a reporter for the school newspaper it was common for the writer to interview students. There were no campus protests during the time over the use of the Redmen mascot.
When a transformer explosion caused a blackout on the campus in 1979 male students joined in a march to the women’s dorm. Native Americans were part of the campus life. However, in 2007, President Larry Williams felt that it was time to end the use of the Redmen mascot. Northeastern adopted the name Riverhawks and there the controversy ended.
Native American classmates like Rita Charley were always kind and helpful and taught the writer about Native American culture and history. President Williams was not forced to change the Redmen mascot. He made the change because he felt it was the right thing to do. Being known by a name for over 80 years is not an easy thing to remove; however, Northeastern made the change. It was the right thing to do.
Washington loves its NFL football team as much as Northeastern students loved their team. The love of the team did not end in 2007. Northeastern still loves its football team. A rose by any other name is still a rose.