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“NEVER” The Pigskins and their discontents

Darrow Montgomery

Dan Snyder must wish the biggest headache he had this year had to do with his football team’s nickname.

In May, Snyder told USA Today that he would “NEVER—you can use caps” ditch the name, which most dictionaries flag with “usually offensive.” At the time, it seemed like the standard NFL offseason diversion. By the time games kicked off, though, a growing number of publications had stopped using the name (which Washington City Paper did last year—we call them the Pigskins), and the Oneida Indian Nation was running ads in every town the team visited. One protest, in Minnesota, drew hundreds of people and won the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat. The National Museum of the American Indian had a symposium on the name. The league felt sufficiently alarmed by the criticism that it set up a meeting with Oneida officials (though not, apparently, alarmed enough to do anything about it).

Snyder, faced with all that, did more or less exactly what anyone who’s paid any attention to his time owning the club might have guessed: He sent fans a combative letter wrapped in nostalgia, recalling how much his late father loved to sing “Hail to the Pigskins,” and basically asserting that it didn’t matter how many Native Americans were offended by the name, because Snyder likes it. A lot. “When I consider the Washington [Pigskins] name, I think of what it stands for,” Snyder wrote. “I think of the Washington [Pigskins] traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me—and just as you have shared with your family and friends.”

Of course, on the field, the team was inflicting far more damage to its own reputation than the Oneidas’ campaign was. Leads blown, kickoffs and punts returned for opposition touchdowns, abysmal protection of Robert Griffin III, the star quarterback the team mortgaged its future to draft: Whatever could go wrong for the Pigskins in the 2013 season did. By December, the midweek press conferences were far more entertaining than the games—especially the one in which Coach Mike Shanahan defended his mystifying decision to bench Griffin to keep him healthy for the offseason, apparently over the objections of offensive coordinator (and Shanahan’s son) Kyle Shanahan.

The answer to all these woes seems pretty obvious: Change the name, cash in on a bonanza as fans rush to buy new merchandise with the new brand—and let everyone pretend this whole year happened to some other franchise altogether.

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