A new chapter begins for the “Washington Football Team;” a new chance to embrace a name without the racist overtones that “Redskins” has always carried with it. The temporary moniker will suffice in the interim to prevent a rushed decision (and oftentimes rushing a decision results in a poor decision).
D.C. football and its fans deserve a name more fitting of the city, their shared history, and one that reflects the city’s stature as our Nation’s capital. The D.C. franchise may not actually be “America’s Team,” but as “America’s City,” the team’s name carries a symbolic mantle for the entire Nation. After all, the baseball franchises in Cleveland and Atlanta, as well as many in other sports that claim to honor Native Americans still remain and are likely to because they are not charged with the same national gravitas.
Therefore, being thoughtful and careful about the new name for this franchise becomes paramount. Some of the suggestions thus far: Sentinels, Warriors, Skins, Redhawks, and others, each have their own merits and shortcomings. However, none of them inspires much. None redresses the harm done by the name “Redskins” over the years. None represents the city in any substantial way.
So, are we considering the entire picture here? After all, haven’t the historic waves of change that compelled this also foretold of a time for even more sweeping change for the city? D.C. statehood is gaining rapid momentum. In addition, when (not if) the 700,000 residents of the district are granted representation in U.S. Congress, D.C. will no longer be a district but a state. And that state will need a name as well.
Let us hope ownership does not make the mistake of naming the team “The Senators” as MLB did long ago. It is a name rife with irony because the residents of D.C. do not have actual Senators representing them on the Hill. (The Nationals considered bringing “Senators” back but thought better of it.) D.C. should exercise forethought in naming the franchise: not only an enduring source of pride for residents of the District, and perhaps future state, but a symbol of the values and aspirations of the Nation. A Nation that looks to its true history—the good and the bad. A Nation that now is charged with systemic change.
We propose the name Washington Fredericks.
It is an unusual name for a football team, to be sure, even if “Freds” becomes the obvious nickname, and will likely be met (at first) without much fanfare. But it’s not any stranger than the “Bills” of Buffalo, the “Giants” and “Jets” of New York, or the “Browns” of Cleveland, so named after their first coach, Paul Brown, considered by some as the father of modern football. And a closer look reveals true inspiration and representation. Naming D.C.’s football team after a true father of our nation would rectify nearly a century of racial insensitivity.
Buried in the Baltimore “Ravens” name is the story of local pride for resident author Edgar Allan Poe. (One might say the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and other cities’ franchises embody this same spirit.) The Washington Fredericks would honor not only the man Frederick Douglass but the citizens of D.C., and the Nation as well. The occasion to tell Douglass’ life story and its impact on the struggle for freedom for enslaved Americans.
Douglass came later than the founding fathers, but he did more than any American to solve the problems they left behind, those that resulted in The Civil War. Frederick Douglass was as true an American hero as there ever was. Upon his death in 1895, he had become an international figure, an abolitionist, editor, author, and one of our best orators, writers, and leaders in U.S. history. Douglass was also a D.C. resident at times.
In the book Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, Yale professor David W. Blight tells the remarkable story of Douglass, born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, and born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818. He lived as a slave his first two decades, obtained his freedom, and taught himself to read and write. His abilities as public speaker became legendary; many of his most famous speeches are still taught today, and they remain powerful and are recited on the Fourth of July. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas recently quoted Douglass on a floor speech against damage to historical statues.
As Mr. Blight writes, “Douglass was the most photographed American of the nineteenth century,” and it is likely “that more Americans heard Douglass speak than any other public figure of his times.” One of those public domain photographs would make a powerful logo.
The Washington Freds’ logo could be Douglass himself, his eyes always looking toward freedom and equality. He, along with Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and so many others, saved this country from dissolution. Frederick Douglass, from slave to abolitionist to international celebrity, may have made the greatest contribution of all.
Certainly, there will be some that will take issue with the name. A “Frederick” doesn’t exactly inspire intimidation, at least at the outset. Nevertheless, Douglass’s determination in his goal, his relentless pursuit of liberty, and his historical importance to a city so rich in its proud history and the symbolism of his life’s struggle to the story of America far outweigh any downside.
D.C. deserves a franchise name that represents all of its citizens. One that inspires them.
(Note: Dan Snyder and the ownership group would enjoy boosted sales if the name is actually admired by and honored the people of the District.)
The Washington Fredericks. Can you not picture it? A name drawn from America’s continued fight for liberty and equality as exemplified by Frederick Douglass’ life.
If we truly intend institutional change, so that America may live up to the ideals set out by the framers of The Constitution, we must first change our symbols and begin to tell the stories of true American heroes who spent their lives fighting for these ideals. Frederick Douglass remains an inspiration to this day. Every parent who explains the name Freds to their children would have the occasion to tell Douglass’ story.
What better way to honor Douglass and our Nation’s capital, and thus, to give new life to a franchise with one of the worst names in sports? Simply use its polar opposite. The
Washington Fredericks. Has a nice ring to it, if you think for a moment.
(Mark Bieter is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He is co-author of An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho. Kevin O’Connell received his MFA from Emerson College and is co-author of The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip. He lives in Pittsburgh. Both are graduates of Gonzaga University at Spokane, in the other Washington.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.