KOUTOULAS: Changing team names put in perspective

Published 9:24 am Friday, July 17, 2020

Our priorities are out of whack. 

This week, the owner of the NFL football franchise in Washington, DC, announced the organization would be changing its name.

Since its inception, the team has used the moniker “Redskins” and images of a Native American in its marketing materials.

This isn’t the only major professional sports club to use Native American names and images, and there have been calls for all of them to ditch the offensive names and imagery for decades. 

The move represents an about-face for team owner Daniel Snyder, who in the past has said he would never change the name, despite that it has long been considered a racial slur.

The impetus for the current backlash against Snyder’s organization seems to be a confluence of factors.

Raised awareness of offenses against people of color undoubtedly played a role. But it was probably more because logistics giant FedEx has threatened to remove its name from the team’s stadium — and thus millions of dollars in ad revenue.

Predictably, people are lining up to condemn the move. 

Some of the words and phrases I’ve heard used to describe the decision to rename the team include “caving to political correctness,” “crybabies,” and “suppression of freedom of speech.” 

Bear in mind that many of these people cheer on a president who has done more to squelch freedom of the press than perhaps any American leader in recent history. 

The thing that fascinates me about this situation is that things seem to be playing out precisely the way free-market conservatives and libertarians generally hope and expect. 

Yet, these are mostly the people crying foul. 

But no government agency or official is forcing Snyder to make the change. There is no “PC Police” around to enforce the move.

This is mostly the work of the so-called invisible hand of the free market. 

In addition to FedEx, other corporate partners — including Nike and Pepsi — have called for the organization to drop the offensive name.

They are responding to their investors (owners), who are in turn responding to demands from their customers. 

You could say it was the protestors, the letter-writers, the potential boycotters, the people in the street (and not in the stands) who forced this change. 

Isn’t this how free markets are supposed to work? 

The other thing I find interesting is how strongly some people oppose such a trivial change. 

I use that word “trivial” advisedly. Speaking as a huge sports fan, I certainly understand the attachment fans form to team names and logos. I have shelves full of memorabilia from my favorites sports teams: the Kentucky Wildcats, the Cincinnati Reds, the Miami Dolphins. 

But it’s also important to put things in perspective.

We must weigh the minor inconvenience of having one’s favorite team renamed with the significant pain that these racially insensitive words and images inflict upon marginalized Americans.

Regardless of how an outsider might feel, the essential issue is how members of the affected groups feel. 

On the other hand, learning to use a new name for your favorite sports franchise is, by comparison, a walk in the park. Ask fans of another Washington institution, the NBA Washington Wizards. 

Remember the Washington Bullets? That’s what the Wizards were known as until 1997 when owner Abe Pollin chose to drop the name in response to rampant gun violence in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. 

It didn’t take fans long to adjust. 

I have some advice for die-hard fans of the soon-to-be erstwhile Washington Redskins.

— Recognize who initiated this change. It was not the NFL, not the government, not the media and not even team owner Daniel Snyder. In the end, it was everyday people demanding change. We did this. 

— Once the new name and logo are revealed, use this as an excuse to go out and load up on all new team swag. The retail sector needs a shot in the arm.

— In a similar vein, all of your existing team memorabilia is now instant “throwback” swag. Think of them as collector’s items.

— Encourage fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians to demand their teams make similar changes, so you can commiserate with them. Misery loves company, right?

— Learn to be happy in the knowledge that future generations of Native Americans will not be forced into painful conversations with their children about why grown men suit up in uniforms that demean and denigrate their heritage.

— Suck it up, buttercup.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Facebook at fb.me/PeteTheSun.