Last week saw the professional death spiral of quicksilver quarterback Robert Griffin III in a Washington football uniform. Just three years after the team mortgaged its future to draft the Heisman winner, and two years after he completed an electric rookie season, Griffin is all but done in this town, a shocking reversal of fortune for a player who was the Next Big Thing and a franchise that has even diehard fans turning away in droves. I wanted RGIII to continue to transfix the the NFL like he did during that hypnotic first campaign. I wanted it not only because DC is a special place when the home team is cooking. I wanted it because the deeper RGIII took this team into the playoffs, the better chance that its damnable racist name—the one linked to the psychiatric damage of Native children—would change. This team’s Jim Crow–era moniker has survived into the 21st century precisely because this Walking Dead franchise has been so irrelevant if not unwatchable over the last 20 years. Their billion-dollar zombie-brand endures because the team lurks in the shadows, only living in the broader public consciousness when owner Dan Snyder’s voracious ego has to feed. Imagine if they made the Super Bowl and the world had two weeks to debate and discuss this name. One could imagine a mass march on the Super Bowl, as dozens of Native American tribal councils would undoubtedly mobilize and converge on the big game, as feckless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stammered excuses about how it’s “ultimately up to Dan Snyder.”
Tragically, while the team is currently mired yet again in one humiliation after another, after another, after another, Dan Snyder clings even more tightly to the name, molding a new constituency of newfound “fans” who want the team to be a symbol of the fight against “political correctness.” The team is becoming the sports equivalent of the Donald Trump presidential run, a dead-ender operation with nothing to offer but a howl of anger at a slowly evolving world. To change the team name would mean conceding not only that this beloved brand is racist but that racism and white supremacy actually exist and deserve to be fought. Similarly, to concede that the business practices of parasites like Donald Trump are a far greater cause of economic insecurity than an undocumented immigrant family is to break with a racism that for many has become a last refuge of comfort in a frightening world of debt and despair.
Trump is also the embodiment of what, before the awful summer of 2015, Washington team President Bruce Allen called, without irony, “winning the off-season.” Trump is winning now when it doesn’t matter, but is on a toboggan ride toward eventual oblivion. You don’t win national elections in 2016 on the single-issue platform that white people are getting a raw deal. Similarly, the sliver of people who cheer for Dan Snyder in Southern bars to “Keep the Name” while he pumps his fist, does not make up for how many fans have left the building and how degraded the franchise has become. The Twitter feed promoted by the team that’s devoted to defending the name, @Redkinsfacts is sending out articles from National Review (since deleted) conflating the push to change the team name with attacks against symbols of the old Confederacy. They have hired a right-wing rogue’s gallery like Bush flack Ari Fleischer; Bruce Allen’s brother, George “Macaca” Allen; and Republican lisckspittle Frank Luntz to help them polarize the fanbase and keep the brand intact. This team, which has long survived by being supported by a majority-black city and play their games in majority-black Prince George’s County, seem content to play Trump and be divisive, ugly, and cruel to the fans that have loved them the most. These fans have said overwhelmingly in polls that they understand why Native Americans would be offended by the name and that Snyder should meet with the tribal councils and hear their concerns. Instead, he sneers at the very idea.