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‘Skin Graft

August 5, 2015

The festering controversy about the name of Washington’s NFL franchise is not really about using an ethnic slur to identify a gang of warrior-athletes. Most people accept that naming a football team The Redskins was not intended to demean Native Americans, but as a compliment to their tactical skills, stamina, and ferocity.

When the team began in 1932, Americans, native and immigrant, had no idea they were adding insult to the injuries done to the original inhabitants of North America. Now those who see a slur want the team renamed; those who don’t want nothing to change. A Mexican standoff? No, and not a Latino or Hispanic one, either, lest one strike an exposed nerve somewhere. Gridlock, then—a Washington specialty.

The trouble is that this paralysis has begun to manifest itself on the field, where the players drag around the gridiron like eleven Atlases bearing the weight of the world on their pads. In fact, the burden they carry is that widely derided name. Given the mass of this baggage, one marvels that the ‘Skins stumbled into the playoffs this year.

Left to themselves these troubled athletes would no doubt change their team’s name in a New York—whoops, a plain, unadorned, but very brief minute. The name, Redskins, like the Confederate stars and bars battle flag and a troop of bronze Rebel generals on horseback, is said to evoke past pain and suffering, rather like the cross in Roman times and the Star of David in Nazi ones. But the Redskins matter need not become one of those wounds that will not close. All the situation requires is a new name shat pleases almost everybody and inflicts no fresh injury on anyone.

History tells us to proceed with caution here. Washington has tried such apt names as Senators, whose pitiful performance on the baseball diamond was immortalized in a Broadway musical. With that in mind, we can forget about the Washington Congresspersons (How ‘bout those Persons?), Whips, Leaders, Lobbyists. The Independents? (How ‘bout those Indies—Undies, in a losing season.)

No doubt some thought has been given to adopting the name of another indigenous community less likely to complain. (How ‘bout those Jívaros? Go Nubians!) A more practical solution is to modify the identity they already have: keep the Re and those warriorly feathers, but drop dskins. That would dilute the ethnic pejorative but preserve the R on all those branded souvenirs. Most important, it would open the way to a new name that inflicts no pain, but might puff some wind into the becalmed team’s sagging sails.

Imagine the moment. A legion of armored giants, brilliant as X-men in magenta and gold livery, canter onto the verdant gridiron of FedEx field. On their chests is a varsity-size capital R—not for Redskins, but for the one name nobody can resist: REAGANS.

The Washington Reagans. Why not? It worked for the giant Speeresque office complex down in the Federal Triangle. It worked for the airport, more or less. It keeps on working—well, trickling down--for the Republicans. It would drive relieved fans crazy with happiness.

But this new name would do more than invigorate Washington’s favorite players. It packs a powerful offensive punch. The sight of that giant R, would infect opponents with an enfeebling deference felt all the way down to their cleats. Only a barbarian sociopath would deny touchdowns to avatars of the Gipper. In the storied competition between Dallas and Washington, until now a game of cowboys and Indians, the Indians—or, rather, their renamed, ethnically blank successors—would finally begin to win.

Announcers, wanting a catchy variant, could call the team the Reags (rhymes with Haigs), or, better, the Gippers (How ‘bout those Gipps?). On the sidelines a covey of scantily clad beauties—the Capitol City Ronettes—would kick and wave ribbons for the crowd. Roving vendors would add bags of jelly beans to their trays. Around the nation, sports-minded seniors would watch football with heightened interest, drawn by having an eighty-some-year-old team named for America’s oldest serving president. And nobody, but nobody, would be insulted. Well, maybe a few touchy Democrats.

Of course, solving one vexing social problem inevitably awakens others. Renaming the Redskins the Washington Reagans might break the players’ debilitating psychic fever and resuscitate their skills, but it could also ignite a trend in other major-league sports. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves might want to look for something else—the Grovers, perhaps, or the Nunns. In hockey, Chicago’s Blackhawks could become the Obamas, unless things get seriously worse in the next few months. (Professional basketball has somehow evaded the ethnic-slur trap. Did they know?)

The switch from Redskin to Reagan would also help the nation salve the secretly injured sensibilities of other groups. Catholics must finally tire of calling baseball teams the Cardinals (don’t be fooled by that red-bird logo) and the Padres, or a football team the Saints. The strapping men of Polynesia will openly scorn the idea of New York fielding a squad of Islanders. No doubt other grievances wait in ambush below the temporal horizon.

But that is the future, not the here and now of choosing which R-word to use for Washington’s football team. It is time, and more than time, for change. Go Reagans!

Selected Works

Fiction
A former RAF squadron leader and Russian nuclear safeguards inspector try to thwart a decades-old Iraqi scheme to re-infect the world with smallpox.
An editor named Randall strives to succeed at Dawn Books, part of Dawn magazine’s media empire.
An international thriller, a moving tale of love and deception, beautifully told.
A mysterious rain of radioactive material poisons Bolivia’s coca crop. “Outstanding thriller.”
Publishers Weekly
American operatives stalk the world’s first molecular microchip in communist Bulgaria. “Extraordinary on every level.”
London Daily Telegraph

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