Team names, history come together

Published 10:13 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Washington Redskins won on Sunday, but all-in-all, the victory over the Broncos still leaves the Skins with a 3-6 record and way out of the playoff picture.

On Monday, the Redskins got a bigger win, with long-term implications. No, Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato are still in charge, so that’s not the triumph.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it will not hear an appeal of a 17-year-old case from a group of Native Americans that wants to banish the nickname “Redskins.”

There are other lawsuits, with the same end result desired by the plaintiffs, working their way through the court system, a system of course that has nothing better to spend its time on than sports teams’ nicknames. The Supreme Court’s decision — or its decision not to change the previous decision — is likely to keep the “Redskins” safe for many years to come, however.

In one sense, it couldn’t hurt the Redskins to change things in a big way. Perhaps with the Washington Tribe, or Red Storm, or Orange, or Hawks and a whole ton of new merchandise and jerseys, everyone could forget about the team’s owner, general manager and acting-provisional substitute teacher — I mean, head coach — for a season or two.

When it comes to the political incorrectness of nicknames, “Redskins” really is pretty high on the totem pole, or let’s say scale.

Since all this is about nicknames for sports teams, there’s part of me that wonders “Why would anyone be offended enough over a sports logo or nickname to file a lawsuit?” and there’s part of me that says, “As much as it pains a fan of a team or school for a little bit, it probably makes sense for William and Mary, St. John’s, Syracuse or Miami or Ohio and countless smaller colleges and high schools to change with changing times.”

Although, if that standard is the right one for colleges and schools without the clout of Florida State or Illinois, shouldn’t it be the right one for the Seminoles, Redskins, Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves of the sports world? In the case of schools, there usually is some type of historic meaning that led to the nickname. In the case of a pro franchise, not so much. The name just markets well.

Fortunately, in the case of the Nansemond River Warriors, similar to the Florida State Seminoles, the school has always had the endorsement of the Nansemond Indian Tribe through the 19 years Nansemond River High School has been in existence. Hopefully, that relationship remains positive since the name “Nansemond River Warriors” tells current Suffolkians a little about this place’s history.