Now that Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has fired his head coach, we can start the countdown on the firing of the team's name. The Redskins suffered through their worst season in almost 20 years, and one needn’t dig too deeply into the comment thread of any discussion of the team’s woes to find some clever soul expounding upon the thesis that Washington's football fortunes won't change until the nickname is changed.
To the Bravehearts, for instance, the team’s fierce denials notwithstanding. (My own preference has long been the Washington Scandal. Imagine the headlines: “Scandal Rocks New York.” “Scandal Fizzles in Chicago.” And so on.)
Still, a word of warning to those who think the team is cursed: Lots of teams have dropped Native American-themed mascots to avoid offense. It’s hard to see how it’s made much difference in their play.
St. John’s, previously a consistent winner in basketball, changed its name from the “Red Men” to the “Red Storm” following a woeful 1993-1994 season, and has advanced to the NCAA playoffs only five times since. Stanford University dropped its “Indian” name in January 1972, following its second consecutive Rose Bowl victory. It immediately began a string of five bowl-less seasons, and managed only four bowl appearances in the next 20 years. After Syracuse University dropped its Saltine Warrior mascot, its football team achieved a barely winning season of 7-5, then endured several years of mediocrity before becoming a consistent winner again.
There’s even precedent in Washington for this unhappy trend. In 1997, the owner of the NBA's Washington Bullets decided that the name resonated too closely with the violence then plaguing the city. The name was changed to the Wizards. Despite sending a handful of barely-above-.500 squads to the playoffs, the team has struggled ever since.
Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that the R*dsk*ns (as some sportswriters have taken to calling the team) shouldn’t change the name. That ship sailed long ago, and about the only one not yet on board is the owner. I expect he will be soon.
But it isn’t bad karma that’s causing Washington’s woes. Whatever you call them, they’re just a bad team. Changing the name won’t change that.