Never is here.
Dan Snyder roared for years, promising he “never” would alter the name of Washington’s NFL franchise. He even told one writer to put his promise in all caps. “NEVER,” Snyder said.
Snyder, owner of the Washington franchise, was defiantly and cluelessly stuck in yesterday. Monday, he and his franchise embraced the reality and sensitivity of 2020. Washington will have a new nickname.
A few years ago, I talked with Billy Mills about Snyder’s “never” promise. Mills, in one of the greatest Olympic upsets, won the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He’s a proud member of the Lakota tribe, a proud Marine, and he’s proud he voted for Ronald Reagan. “A big fan,” he said of our 40th president.
“It’s a rapidly changing world,” Mills said in response to Snyder’s promise, “and there’s no never.”
Mills had been troubled for decades by Washington’s refusal to change its racist nickname.
“How can America allow this?” Mills asked me.
I realize many of you see Washington’s name change as a personal defeat. For years, I’ve heard the explanations and excuses. Washington’s nickname and others like it are/were, I’ve been told, intended to honor Native Americans.
Here’s the problem: Intent and reality did not mix. Yes, it requires imagination to see the gap between intent and reality, but it’s always a virtue to push your imagination toward profitable destinations.
The term redskin, Mills said, has a gruesome connection with America’s past. During our nation’s long wave of destruction, bounties were placed on Native Americans. A man was paid for bringing in a scalp, or a redskin.
There was never honor in the nickname. Washington’s former nickname always ranked as a vile slur. George Preston Marshall, the team’s first owner, selected the name 87 years ago. This is no surprise. Marshall was the last NFL owner to sign an African-American athlete. He signed Bobby Mitchell in 1962 under pressure from the Kennedy administration.
Marshall’s statue was recently removed from the team’s former home at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. Now the name he selected is gone, too.
We’re making progress. Palmer High’s mascot was once an eagle-beaked Native American. No longer. St. John’s in New York City changed from Redmen to Red Storm. CSU-Pueblo discarded Indians and embraced ThunderWolves.
For decades, a white guy dressed in Native American garb did goofy, insulting dances on the sidelines at Syracuse football games. Doug George-Kanentiio, a member of the Mohawk nation, arrived on campus in 1976 and was stunned by the Saltine Warrior.
“It obscured the real history and contributions that Native Americans contributed,” George-Kanentiio told the Syracuse student newspaper. “It stood in the way of the realization of the potential of Native Americans.”
He asked for a meeting with SU school chancellor Melvin Eggers. George-Kanentiio opened his heart, and Eggers listened.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Eggers said.
The insulting dances soon ended.
Denver South High School, my alma mater, dumped Johnny Reb — a Confederate soldier — for the image of gargoyle.
Hallelujah. The truth is marching on. Many of you are protesting this march, but be sure of this: The march will not stop. It’s gaining momentum.
On Monday, supporters of Washington’s discarded nickname were making a new promise: The franchise’s racist moniker will live forever.
No, it won’t. In 20 years, Washington’s former nickname will be the answer to a trivia question. Most fans won’t know the answer. A nickname battle ended Monday, and the good guys won.
In 2014, I spoke with Mills for an hour. He had been on a long crusade to stop racist nicknames. He was weary, but he was optimistic, too.
“We’re not mascots,” he told me.
Amen to that.
On the day we spoke, Washington’s NFL franchise retained a racist nickname and its owner promised that nickname would “never” change.
Goodbye, Redskins. Welcome, Dan Snyder, to neverland.