Sports media was set alight in mid-July with the dropping of a massive bombshell that would shake the most maligned team in sports to its core. The Washington Football Team, an organization no stranger to controversy, would be accused by fifteen former female employees of both sexual and general harassment in the workplace. And with new evidence regarding even more despicable behavior, it’s time to take a deeper look into the failure of the Washington organization.
I’ll start with what was at one point the hottest topic in all of sports: the name change debate. In July, the “Redskins” moniker was finally dropped from Washington’s team, a move that pleased many and angered few. But the process was long and arduous: it was a nearly thirty-year fight to have what effectively was the slur of all slurs with regards to the Native American population removed from a professional sports organization.
The word “redskin” originated in approximately 1769 and was used by Native Americans as a way of differentiating themselves from European colonizers. The usage of the word, however, was soon warped by said colonizers throughout both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Most notably, the author L. Frank Baum, known for writing The Wizard of Oz, published a pair of editorials in December 1890 after the death of Sitting Bull and the Wounded Knee Massacre, within which he stated that “With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.”
It was at this point that the word “redskin” became a derogatory slur, appearing in movies, television, and books to misrepresent and demean indigenous people across the country. It was in 1933 when then-Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall decided to change the team name to the Boston Redskins, in order to differentiate from Boston’s baseball team at the time, also called the Boston Braves.
Fast forward to 1992, and the Washington Redskins were set to play in Super Bowl XXVI, facing the Buffalo Bills. With the realization that they finally had an opportunity to stoke awareness regarding the racist name, a rally was organized by the American Indian Movement outside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Attended by over two-thousand people, the director of the movement, Vernon Bellecourt, referred to Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as “racists”, adding that “this is 1992. The name of your football team has got to be changed… no more chicken feathers, no more paint on faces. The chop stops here.”
The fire of the movement to get the name changed was fueled further in 2013, when Washington owner Dan Snyder told USA TODAY Sports “We’ll never change the name, it’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” This led to outcry from not just Native American organizations across the country, but even president Barack Obama, and fifty senators called for the team’s name to be changed.
Nevertheless, it eventually took companies such as Nike and FedEx (which sponsors Washington’s field) to protest and threaten the team for an internal review to occur, concluding in the termination of the Redskin mantra from the organization. This was a victory in the eyes of many, and should have worked wonders for public perception of the team—but then chaos erupted.
On July 16, a bombshell story from the Washington Post revealed that fifteen former female employees of the organization were accusing various front office employees of sexual harassment and misconduct, leading to the resignation and termination of several high-ranking Washington officials, including longtime radio voice Larry Michael and director of pro personnel Alex Santos.
These allegations have proven to be the tip of the iceberg, however. On August 26, yet another article was published by the Washington Post, displaying even more disturbing allegations of sexual harassment.
Details such as a former Washington senior vice president ordering video staff to put together “lewd outtakes” from cheerleader photo shoots, as well as a former cheerleader’s account involving the owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, approaching her at a 2004 charity event and asking her to go to his friend’s hotel room to “get to know his friend better” are nothing short of disturbing—but have sadly been seen as commonplace with Washington’s shunned sports franchise. So what’s the reasoning for the recurring problem?
As usual for Washington, the problems start and end with the front office. It isn’t often that you have a team owner in sports that is as disliked and hated with furious vitriol as much as the man leading the ship in Ashburn, Virginia. But yes, Daniel Snyder deserves every single snippet of disgust that he gets.
Snyder has allowed a frat-boy, renegade culture to exist inside the front office for far too long. With each passing day, the words “Sell the team, Dan” seem to ring louder and louder—in both Washington fans and NFL fans’ minds alike. An owner who has seen a total of five winning seasons out of twenty-one years of ownership is a disappointment to say the least.
The hiring of Ron Rivera as head coach this offseason has been seen as one for purposes of changing the culture on and off FedEx Field. But it is gravely clear that more change is needed, and whether that change takes a single offseason or multiple to occur is an unknown.
But as for now? Nothing about this organization can be fixed without one crucial thing happening.
Sell the team, Dan.