We’re on the cusp of October and thus fully entrenched in fall and the NFL season. Although it cannot be called America’s pastime, that designation belongs to baseball, football is America’s game. It’s the country’s most popular sport, and in many ways is analogous to and signals the contradiction of the society from which it spawns. Football is both homoerotic and homosocial; the professional teams, with their profit-sharing and equal salary caps (unlike baseball) makes the financial setup almost communist; and there’s a kind of anonymity to the game–the helmets and the number of participants make most players unknowns to the most casual fans–which seems odd given this society’s emphasis on individuality. And yet, football is very much like the United States. Like most sports, it works on the plantation economy model; as we have increased our military presence, football has become more popular; it’s violent; it’s an incredibly conservative sport; it presents a narrow vision of masculinity and toughness; it’s least popular workers are the ones who are paid the least and the most vulnerable to serious injury. And, the team that represents the nation’s capital possesses a racist nickname and a (black) quarterback who won’t say anything about it.
Although the “controversy” over the Washington Redskins team name and image has been debated for many years, the issue has once again gained traction with several newspapers and popular figures in sports deciding to refer to the team as Washington’s professional football team. Although this isn’t the first time this has happened, there have been protests in front of the team’s stadium. Lots of articles have been written about the need for a name change. And yet, despite additional co-sign from white male sports writers, etc., the team has made no moves to change their name.
In a certain way, the fact that Washington, D.C. has the league’s offensive name makes a lot of sense. After all, is it not the American way to name places and other entities after things that are no longer there? Does it not seem apropos that the nation’s capital would be home to the team with the league most offensive name? That Washington D.C. would give their football team an offensive moniker that harkens to the very fact that it governs folks living on stolen land? And does it not make sense that its quarterback, Robert Griffin III, if Subway commercials teach us anything, is the league’s most visible non-white star and he hasn’t said a word about the jersey he dons every Sunday? I’m too young to know if we demanded the same of Doug Williams, who was the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1988. But I do know that it seems that Griffin graduated magna cum laude from the Barack Obama school of race in America. How can his position in this story not be read as a sign of the times?
If Ohio is regarded as a bellwether state each national election cycle, perhaps we should look at professional football, again, America’s game, as a bellwether sport. As it goes, so goes the id of the nation. Teams unite folks with not much else in common, and the sport has become a religion of sorts: Each Sunday we don colors and cheer for teams as if they are denominations of worship. So, perhaps the refusal for there to be a significant push to change Washington’s team name is an indicator of how enthusiastic we are to pay symbolic attention to real transgressions. And the fact that the young black leader of the team remains silent is too uncomfortably akin to the style of this nation’s first black president. Indeed, we can shrug and ask, What’s in a name? The answer to that question, though is: A start.