What’s in a name? Michael Dorman found out the hard way.
“What’s in a name?” That’s the question I had to ask myself on a recent Monday night.
As the stepfather to a 14 year old boy, Monday Night Football is something of a ritual in our home. We’re football fans, even if we find ourselves rooting for different teams. I’ve long said that you lock in on a favorite team before age 12. My son was no different. He came of age in the twilight of Favre’s career and locked in on the Minnesota Vikings. I came into football maturity during the dominant days of John Riggins. If you know anything of NFL history, you see where this is going: The Washington Redskins.
Since age eleven, I’ve “hailed” with the best of them. Through good years and what seemed like never-ending bad years, I followed and rooted for D.C.’s team for 30 years from 3,000 miles away. Then, on that fateful Monday night, Bob Costas shattered my world view.
What’s in a name? It’s not as simple as Shakespeare would have you believe.
Football is a game of traditions. Habits. And fandom, true fandom, is imprinted on us at a young age. An age of innocence, before hard questions get asked, let alone answered. Before racism, misogyny, point spreads, crippling injuries and off-field arrests that are part of the game need to be considered and discussed as rational, responsible adults. When all that matters is your team’s place in the standings and whether or not you can beat your rival.
I consider myself intelligent, thoughtful and most days, even considerate of my fellow human. While not part of his life since my boy’s birth, I have tried to provide a good example to him in the time he’s been in my life. I’m not always successful, but I know no father who is. Regardless, I like to think I’ve helped raise him with a strong moral center and consideration for others.
But make no mistake, through it all I had remained a diehard Redskins fan. Right or wrong, that imprint is very tough to overcome. And then one evening the halftime of Monday Night Football begins to wrap and Costas finishes his essay:
…the NFL franchise that represents the nation’s capital has maintained its name. But think for a moment about the term “Redskins,” and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or members of any other ethnic group.
When considered that way, “Redskins” can’t possibly honor a heritage, or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent. It is fair to say that for a long time now, and certainly in 2013, no offense has been intended. But, if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense “might” legitimately be taken?
When Costas is done my son turns to me and asks, “What do you think?” And there I am, a deer, his eyes the fast approaching headlights of a Mac truck.
Even now, I don’t remember what I said. I fumbled, I rambled, I justified. And ever since, I’ve regretted. I let my fandom overrule my fatherhood. My answer should have been, “Costas is right. The name is a slur and as a responsible, intelligent, considerate adult, as of now I cannot and will not support them in any way.” But I didn’t. I made excuses due to traditions, habits.
I’m haunted by that decision: not because I made it, but because I’m still torn. The rational part of my brain knows that I should not be a fan of a team that has an offensive name. Period.
But, but they’re MY team. How do I drop 30 years of tradition? Memorabilia? Jerseys? Pat Summerall and John Madden calling games versus the hated Cowboys?
I can’t. I’ll never forget the stats I know or the emotions I’ve felt. I still occasionally call Houston’s team the Oilers, and I forget the Cardinals aren’t in St. Louis. In my brain, the Rams should be in Los Angeles. And don’t get me started on how weird “Tennessee” sounds on any NFL team.
They say it takes 21 days to break a habit. So, if I start now, I should be able to have a new team by Thanksgiving, right? Doubtful.
The simple answer is…there is no good answer. Even if the Redskins change their name, they won’t be my team anymore. I’m not a fan of the Washington Red Storm, Red Hawks, Red Tails or whatever equally unnerving name they come up with. Shakespeare was wrong. A team by another name won’t sound as sweet. Just ask the Bullets, er, Wizards.
And make no mistake, they will change the name, eventually, because while it’s not a “good” answer, it is the right one. And as a fan, I have to believe that my team will do the right thing, because that’s what heroes do.
Even though I’m no longer a fan.
So, what’s in a name? With any luck, nothing. I’d hate to think I’ve lost even a bit of my son’s respect because of the name of a football team I grew up loving.
I wonder if it’s too late to be a Vikings fan, like my son.
photo The U.S. Army / Flickr