Who knew that all it would take for the football team in Washington to change their name would be their home field’s title sponsor not-so-gently suggesting it, threatening the loss of millions of dollars and an expedited sprint of corporations running away from the franchise?
Of course, this was always about money! Who does things out of the goodness of their hearts anymore? And now that the national consciousness has shifted to Daniel Snyder’s football club, there is real and absolute pressure on the owner to hire a branding team, round up focus groups, gobble up designers and artists and produce a new look for his football team. Or, as I might suggest, play simply as Washington in 2020 while you give your fans a chance to weigh in on options that are meaningful or appealing to them.
Either way, momentum is rolling downhill. The team on Friday announced plans to “thoroughly review” the club’s name, which they pretended was in the works long before the financial pressure from a key sponsor. A statement from the franchise also included a quote from head coach Ron Rivera, who said that the issue was “of personal importance to him” just a few days after he said on a radio show that it was a “discussion for another time.” Apparently that time is now!
So what might a name change look like? Here are five options that could make some sense for a quick turnaround, though let me be clear that the best option would be to take the year off and not have a nickname. This is a deeply sensitive issue and by taking the time to do their homework, Washington could spend the year steeped in a more accurate portrayal of our history, eventually surfacing with something that could honor a heritage that spent so long feeling squeamish, or downright offended, by the name.
None of these suggestions are endorsements in particular, but are a combination of thoughts and analyses based on what the team might be inclined to do...
I think either of these names accomplish something important for Snyder; something he is no doubt worried about during this process. By leaning into an excessively American theme, with the ability to name-check the military, drape a new set of uniforms in red, white and blue, and repurpose the American flag for design purposes (or in some other way borrow from the Trumpian aesthetic), he heads off criticism from the people who will be most indignant and vocal about the change.
• Red Tails/Red Clouds
The Red Tails was a finalist for a rebrand contest a few years back and makes reference to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. While there is a stronger geographic tie to Alabama, the Airmen represented something truly incredible and stoic: A diverse unit of African American, Caribbean, Haitian and Dominican pilots who fought and served the country despite the existence of Jim Crow-era segregation and rampant discrimination. Utilizing the name change to shine a light on a criminally overlooked piece of American history could be an effective counterweight to years of digging in on a nickname that so many people deemed racially insensitive.
Red Clouds was suggested in a Washington Post column, handing the team name over to a native American hero. From the Post column by Bob Drury and Thomas Calvin:
What is called Red Cloud’s War officially began in 1866 when the Sioux leader could no longer abide the relentless incursions, including the building of U.S. Army forts, into his people’s territory. The high point of the war occurred when he and his field commander Crazy Horse wiped out an Army troop of 81 men. President Andrew Johnson’s stunned administration sued for peace. In November 1868, Red Cloud signed a treaty to end the fighting — only after burning the Army forts to the ground.
Less than two years later, Red Cloud was in the nation’s capital. “He became stunningly famous,” historian R. Eli Paul wrote. “Newspapers recounted his every word and deed, and large crowds of onlookers gathered at every public sighting .”
Drury and Calvin make the point that this would involve little change to the fight song or logo. The aesthetic could remain the same while honoring instead of offending a group of people.
• Hogs/Battle Hogs/War Hogs/Swamp Hogs
Especially given the recent passing of Joe Bugel, the team’s legendary offensive line coach, using the name change to honor the legacy of The Hogs would be well received. Washington fans dress up like hogs. It is a comfortably nestled secondary mascot and pays homage to the franchise’s glory years when Joe Jacoby, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, George Starke and Fred Dean, led by Bugel, formed the foundation of the club’s glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
One of these would be easy enough, though incredibly boring and somewhat dicey given the polarized nature of our American political system at the moment. I’m sure that certain fans in certain years would not care to support certain presidents—or senators!—depending on the balance of power.
• Ditch the nickname altogether
I have seen this suggested in multiple places. Maybe Washington just adopts “Washington Football Club” or some vague, bureaucratic title like the Department of Defense and Department of Offense (sorry Department of Special Teams). I do think there is something to the idea that many professional franchises don’t have popularized nicknames. Throughout futbol culture teams are widely known by their region, with something like F.C. or United, which would pacify the fans who do not want to see a new name at all.