This new series is guest blogged by Doug Logan.
Doug Logan was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010. He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview.
This is his 67th article. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
Abe Pollin, the late sports entrepreneur, was a throwback to a prior generation. His was the longest tenure of NBA ownership. He had a tennis court built next to his office and every day his outside counsel, David Osnos, came over around noon and hit balls with Abe. He had a cot in his office suite and took a two hour nap each day.
In 1996, Pollin announced that he was going to change the name of his basketball franchise from the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards. His actions met with much derision from cynical local writers, particularly the cruel jesters, Tony Kornheiser and Tom Knott. The reason for Pollin’s decision was that he did not want to give any re-enforcement to the District of Columbia’s reputation as a nexus for violence. Additionally, he referred to his continued sorrow over the assassination of his friend, Yitzak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel, who died from a bullet in the back.
In a column written about that time by my good friend, George Vecsey, Pollin spoke of the fact that “the time had come” to make the change. Vecsey reminisced that as a part of the identity of the franchise the game staff would play “…the sound effects of a rifle being fired when Earl “the Pearl” Monroe performed the dipsey-doo.”
A couple of years earlier, St. John’s University, a Long Island basketball powerhouse and a founding member of the Big East Conference, also decided that the time had come to change their name. They recognized that their nickname, the Redmen, and their equally offensive mascot, were inappropriate for contemporary times. The names of those who had competed under the racist banner included legends Joe Lapchick, Lou Carnesecca, Kevin Loughery, Chris Mullin, Al, Frank and Dick McGuire and Mark Jackson. Despite their legacy, the time had come to change.
During my tenure as Commissioner of MLS, we expanded the league from 10 teams to twelve teams in 1998. One of our expansion cities was Chicago, whose marketing rights were acquired by Phil Anschutz. We were excited about bringing soccer to the “Second City” and had tentatively named the team the Chicago Rhythm, in honor of the city’s musical heritage. However, a trusted employee of Anschutz’ company who was a devout Catholic, objected to the name. She felt that naming a team after the only permissible method of birth control for Catholics might open us up to be mocked by the cynical. In the end we acceded to her wishes and the team went on to win our Championship under the name Chicago Fire.
A team name is more than a name. It becomes a tribal brand that is carried as a rallying cry. It is much more important than the name of a company or the name of a car brand. And, when you have it wrong, it is a constant reminder of insensitivity, stubbornness and in some instances, racism.
The Washington Redskins have it very wrong.
Their stubborn owner, Daniel Snyder, has it very wrong in his dogged insistence that the historic imperatives trump modern sensibilities. Commissioner Roger Goodell has it very wrong in his hands-off posture with Snyder on this issue. Only a very few people know that Goodell lived in the DC area while his father served as a member of Congress from Upstate New York. As such, the Redskins were his rooting interest as a kid. To admit the name is racist would require him to accept that he has been a fan of a team with a morally objectionable name. The thirty-some other NFL owners have it very wrong. They should ban together and force their partner, Snyder, to do the right thing. To avoid that action makes them complicit in this disgusting farce.
Can you think of a major league team named the San Francisco Dagos? Or the San Antonio Wetbacks? Or the New York Hymies? Or the New Orleans Coons? That is the equivalence to the use of the name Redskins. It’s a direct and derogatory reference to the skin color of Native Americans. And if you don’t believe that just ask the regulators at the National Patent Office who have finally reached that conclusion.
Redskin is not the same as the FSU Seminoles, or the Atlanta Braves, or the Cleveland Indians. It is clearly and unambiguously race related. It is an affront to civilized behavior and an obvious embarrassment to the many members of Congress and government employees who call this franchise their own. The cross-dressing fat guys who dress up in women’s clothing and hog noses now have competition for ludicrous imagery.
No wonder the team stinks!