the conscience
The Simple Solution to Washington's Nickname Drama
the conscience

The Simple Solution to Washington's Nickname Drama

It might sound ridiculous at first, but just give it some thought: I know how to end the 'Redskins' debate in a way that makes both sides, and neither side, happy at the same time

Daniel Snyder has been resolute in his lack of willingness to change the Redskins name, despite continued heat. (LM Otero/AP :: Sharon Ellman/AP) Daniel Snyder has been resolute in his lack of willingness to change the Redskins name, despite continued heat. (LM Otero/AP :: Sharon Ellman/AP)

The realization that a fair and successful negotiation is one in which neither side gets everything it wants or walks away entirely happy with the result has been lost in Washington for quite a while now, and could stand being blared from loudspeakers 24/7 until the message sinks in.

But the much-needed middle ground of compromise that had to be found in the stand-off involving the government shutdown and looming federal default is a notion that could prove very useful on more than the political stage in our nation’s capital.

I’m talking, of course, about the other showdown unfolding in Washington, the one involving the controversial nickname of the city’s beloved NFL team. The debate over whether “Redskins’’ is derogatory or not grows more heated every week, as proponents on both sides of the issue stake out positions that render it just another zero-sum game.

But what if it doesn’t have to be all or nothing? What if there’s an option, a legitimate compromise, that doesn’t fall under the heading of either total capitulation to change, or total insensitivity to a perceived ethnic slur? What if there’s some middle ground that allows both camps to walk away thinking they won the half of the debate that really matters to them?

OK, hear me out on this one, and hear me out good. I have a compromise solution to offer Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and it may sound laughable or simplistic at first, to both the name-change advocates and those who want Washington’s team history and traditions left well enough alone. I have to admit, it struck me as a bit silly or too obvious when the idea popped into my head Tuesday afternoon. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might just be crazy enough to work.

Ready? Here goes: What if the Redskins were known as just the Skins?

Right. I know. A ridiculous half-measure. But in this rare instance, with this particularly divisive issue, a half-measure might be exactly what’s called for.

The subtraction of three letters—RED—simultaneously addresses the two most important issues being argued over in this debate: It removes from Washington’s nickname the offensive part of the word that describes a Native American’s skin color. And yet it maintains part of the name that the team has been known as since the franchise moved from Boston in the late 1930s. A Redskins fan has already called their team the 'Skins for probably as long as they’ve been fans. It’s not a drastic, wholesale change to another name, and it leaves Washington with some ability to give a nod to its team history and identity, the same way the NFL allowed the Cleveland Browns to retain their name, heritage and colors when the city’s original franchise relocated to Baltimore in 1996.

Is it the perfect solution? Of course not. But perfection is always the enemy of the good, and "Skins" strikes me as an acceptable halfway point in this fight. In bullet form, let me try and address the questions that understandably flood to mind:

• What exactly is a Skin? What sense does that make? It makes sense in this singular context alone, and only in this particular situation, as a nickname within a nickname that Washington long has been known for. Don’t over-think it. It would be the Skins, no apostrophe before the S, because it wouldn’t be a shortened version of Redskins any more.

And as odd or cumbersome as it sounds now to say the Washington Skins, new fans will come to know this team as only the Skins, and will hear it as a standalone name in time. In 10 or 15 years, the novelty of the name change will have worn off.  While long-time fans who grew up with their team as the Redskins will probably still hear it in their head as the Redskins, the official name will be the Skins, and that identity will form going forward.

Besides, is the Washington Skins any more awkward than the bevy of weather-related nicknames (Heat, Thunder, Lightning, Hurricanes), or vague monikers like the Wild, Thrashers, Blue Jackets, Red Sox or White Sox? Not to mention the ultimate in incongruity: The Utah Jazz. The Washington Skins would be a name that would carry it’s own unique story, and that story could be used as a teaching tool, too.

• What’s the logo supposed to be as Skins? I don’t know what to do with the logo, but that’s really not an unsolvable problem. I’m sure something creative could be worked out by the artists of the world. I’m just the idea man. Maybe something that’s hunter-related, as in skins on the wall? Or would that just prompt a protest from PETA?

• Would Daniel Snyder ever consider giving ground and accepting what is sure to be perceived as half a loaf on the team nickname front? After Snyder unwisely responded to earlier demands for a name change by using the word “NEVER,’’ I’m sure he’d hate even the shortening of his team’s historic nickname. But I think he’s also perceptive enough to know that public opinion is moving away from him on this front, and that key figures like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell are signaling it’s time to consider change and listen more to those voices that are in opposition.

If anything, the best argument for the Skins shortening is that it would give Snyder the ability to find a dignified way out of this mess and save some face after backing himself into a corner. He left himself no room to maneuver with his “NEVER’’ proclamation, and he could rightly claim to be both adhering to his team’s tradition and history while showing sensitivity to Native Americans by making the switch to Skins. It’s called making the best of a bad situation, and that kind of give-and-take used to happen all the time in Washington.

Stand back for a moment and try to realize once again that this may be the rare situation where it’s best for both sides to celebrate a partial win. I can see the benefit of giving both those seeking to have an offensive name changed and those clinging to the Redskins as a revered slice of tradition some respect in this case, with the recognition that the opposing viewpoint can be understood, if not embraced.

Snyder would still own his beloved Skins. Just not the Redskins, a name which is growing increasingly difficult to defend as a harmless relic of a bygone era. Native Americans would no longer routinely hear a slur of their heritage in the name of one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. As a middle-ground solution, changing to the Skins accomplishes a goal. You can’t cut the baby in half, but maybe you can—and should—with a team nickname.

In Washington, it’s time to end the zero-sum game. Let both sides claim victory and move forward.