Hail To The TBA: Renaming Washington’s Football Team

June 19, 2014 6:00 a.m.

Yesterday morning, the U.S. Patent Office canceled the trademarks for the Washington Redskins name, on the reasonable premise that you can’t benefit from the trademarked use of a racial slur.

The decision, based on a suit brought by five Native American advocates, is the latest development in what has been a long fight. Redskins owner Dan Snyder refuses to consider changing the team’s name and the team’s attorney has already said the decision won’t change anything for the team.

As Theresa Vargas writes at the Washington Post, the Patent Office decision clearly doesn’t mean the fight is over:

Native Americans have won at this stage before, in 1999. But the team and the NFL won an appeal to federal court in 2009. The court did not rule on the merits of the case, however, but threw it out, saying that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to file it. The team is likely to make the same appeal this time.

Really, this shouldn’t be an issue that got this far. Changing the name of Washington’s football team is long overdue; there aren’t good arguments for keeping it as-is. It’s downright weird that Snyder and his allies have put so much time and effort into defending the name.

Get TPM in your inbox, twice weekly.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

It’s been a longstanding Washington parlor game to suggest alternatives, and now would be a great time to settle on one.

We could re-name the team the Washington Founders. Throw a powdered wig on the current logo, and call it George; the Nationals even have a costume you could borrow.

I’m not big on abstract singular nouns as team names, but if that’s your style, you could call our team the Washington Taxation Without Representation, so that every jersey will match our license plate. Watching sportscasters trip over the syllables will remind viewers that, for no good reason, D.C. residents don’t get a say in Congress.

D.C. Councilor David Grosso proposed a change to the Washington Redtails, a name that honors the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. It’s a minimal name change, but it subtracts the racial slur of the old name and nods to African-American history. For a team that was slow to integrate but represents a city that’s nearly half black, it would be a smart move.

Some of the serious suggestions, and nearly all of the joking ones, are about Washington as the center of government, rather than as a city unto itself: see, for example, Arthur Delaney’s “Washington Department of Football.” Fewer are about the city itself, a city with a long history and populated by far more than the people whose jobs are listed in the Constitution. The Nationals and the Capitals have the city’s status as our nation’s capital covered, so why not try a new angle for the football team?

Allow me to throw out a serious suggestion: the Washington Dukes, in honor of one of the all-time great Washingtonians.

Edward “Duke” Ellington, the one of the central figures of 20th-century American music, was born here in 1899 and spent his early life here learning to play and write music. He grew up in the city’s historically strong and vibrant black community and went on to be an irreplaceable part of American culture.

Naming a team after a local cultural figure isn’t unheard of; our nearest NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens, is named in honor of that city’s native son Edgar Allan Poe. If a gloomy poet can get a football team in his honor, why not a jazz pianist?

Washington has a rich, underrated musical culture, and it’s the hometown of musicians ranging from Marvin Gaye to Ian MacKaye. So why not give a nod to that legacy? (If not Duke, then I’d heartily endorse Alex Remington’s suggestion to use the team name to honor Chuck Brown, the pioneer of D.C.’s homegrown go-go sound):

But of all the musicians who have passed through Washington, D.C., none is as historically significant as Duke Ellington. His 50-year career as a performer, composer and bandleader makes him one of America’s great artists. He was jazz’s ambassador to the world and a mentor, patron and role model to a generation of jazz musicians.

The team would benefit from selling a whole new set of apparel and paraphernalia, of course. Duke is a name with connotations both tough and regal, and the man who bore it is impeccably cool. Who wouldn’t want the T-shirt? It’s a name D.C. residents could point to with pride, instead of embarrassment.

Ellington already has some tributes here in Washington, including a bridge on Calvert Street and a statue in front of the Howard Theater. But why not take an even bigger opportunity to remind D.C. of its history and its culture?

The odds of Snyder taking my suggestion are about as good as my odds of becoming a world-renowned jazz pianist, but it’s worth a shot.

Seth D. Michaels is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. He’s on Twitter as @sethdmichaels.

Photo credit: @darth

Latest Cafe
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Editor for Content Strategy and Audience Development:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: