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A Simple Yet Strong Solution To Washington Redskins Name Controversy

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Washington Redskins helmet (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Washington Redskins helmet (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — When half of the United States Senate writes a letter urging your football team to change its name, you’ve got yourself a situation. So make no mistake about it: The Washington Redskins have themselves a situation.

The push to change the team’s name continues to gain steam. President Barack Obama has spoken on the matter, and now the movement for change has the backing of 50 members of the United States Senate.

“It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team,” the Senators wrote in an open letter to Roger Goodell, using the NBA’s Donald Sterling situation as a springboard for change in the NFL. “Now is the time for the NFL to act. The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans [in the NBA] while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?”

The letter was circulated by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week, and Redskins team president Bruce Allen responded to Reid directly, saying the team name is not offensive. Allen then encouraged fans to tweet at Senator Reid while using the hashtag #RedskinsPride. Like most poorly conceived social-media campaigns, it was an unmitigated PR disaster.

Though owner Daniel Snyder remains steadfast in his refusal to budge even an inch on this Redskins name controversy, and though fans and supporters remain adamant that a change would be outrageous, it seems more and more clear that a name change is inevitable.

That movement only grew stronger this week when Keith Olbermann uncovered that the basis of Snyder’s belief in the team name’s origin is founded on no real facts.

It’s just the latest in the full-court press from opponents of the name. Famed football writer Peter King stopped using the name altogether in his writings last year. Protests are occurring with more frequency. Politicians are getting involved. Argue it all you want, but we live in a country where public perception and PR can ultimately lead to changes much more significant than the name of a football team. When the wave continues to grow larger, stronger and louder, there is only so much a business can do, and there are only so many dated public opinion polls a football team can roll out, before eventually caving to public outrage.

I’m not here to tell you whether that’s right or wrong. I’m merely here to tell you what I believe to be the best solution for all involved.

Under the premise that the name “Redskins” must be changed, I propose the following for Washington’s football team:

Keep the jerseys, uniforms, team colors and helmets all the same.

Maintain all of team history as the Redskins. This is not Google Chrome; you can’t delete history. Redskins fans are proud of their team’s history, and there’s no need to try to pretend like the name hasn’t existed for more than 80 years.

And of course, the big one:

Change the name of the team to the Washington Americans.

It makes sense on a number of levels.

For one, Washington, D.C. is the capital of our nation — a nation where football is by far the most popular sport. D.C.  is as essential a city to America as there could ever possibly be. The city already has the Capitals and the Nationals, so adding the Americans would be the next logical step. (Then, we can move on to changing the name of the Wizards. I mean, Wizards? What? Why? OK, that’s a topic for another day.)

Secondly, by maintaining the same logo and applying it to the Americans franchise, the team would be making a bold statement of support for Native Americans — one much stronger than a hastily created “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation,” which Allen boasted about in his letter to Reid. Keeping the logo and changing the name to “Americans” sends a strong message of solidarity.

It’s a simple name, yet it says that we are all Americans. Allen claimed in his letter that home games are a “positive, unifying force” in the D.C. community, but taking on the name of the Americans would really make that true. The face on the logo is not the face of every American, and every single face in the crowd is unique as well. Individually, they’re different people from different backgrounds and different cultures, but when 85,000 of them get together to cheer on the local football team, they are all Americans.

And for fans who don’t want to see big changes, none would be necessary. Same logo. Same colors. Same jersey. Just a different word — and a much, much better word — painted in the end zone and stitched in that tiny font on the front of the jersey.

The Washington Americans. It works. Any issues?

(A brief Google search shows that the name “Americans” has been tossed into the ring before. Consider this not a revelatory column, but instead one more vote in support of a good name.)

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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