Former Washington Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot remembers as a rookie looking through the window of the team bus and noticing protesters outside FedEx Field before their game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Confused, he turned to teammate Champ Bailey and asked what the fuss was all about. The group was protesting the Redskins‘ name, and Bailey informed him that some American Indians found it offensive.”
Then, I realized one day, we’re going to have to face this giant,” Smoot said.
That day has come.
The Redskins launched a formal review of their name last week, and on Wednesday, ESPN reported the Redskins will no longer feature American Indian imagery if and when they rebrand. The team, according to the network, will still don burgundy and gold, but the moniker could be a thing of the past and its look will be different.
Now, former players like Smoot are coming to grips that the team is likely headed for change.
Accepting the change will be easier for some than others. Smoot said the team was “eventually going to have to face the music,” while former running back Brian Mitchell was introspective about why a change would be made.
But there are also alumni like former offensive guard Mark May, who told ABC7 the Redskins shouldn’t do it “with a mob mentality who’s pushing you to do it.” May said he would get behind a new name because of the team’s fan base, but added he was in a “difficult position.”
Mitchell, though, said that when he played, he viewed Redskins as just a name.”I played for the organization, I played particularly for the fans, I played for my family, I played for my pride,” said Mitchell, who is now an analyst for NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t know if I necessarily played for a name, you get what I’m saying? … Do you cheer for a name or do you cheer for the players?”
Mitchell said he thinks it’s “ridiculous” that there would be fans who would abandon the team should they ditch “Redskins.” Some have vowed to do so, adamant the moniker is an important part of their fandom.
Smoot has taken a different route.
Rather than mourn, he’s been active in promoting what he thinks should be the team’s next name: the Washington Red Wolves.
Since Sunday, Smoot’s Twitter feed might as well be its own Red Wolves fan page. First, he tweeted: “Ok keep same colors and new [name] is the Red Wolves???” — including a picture of a burgundy-colored wolf against a gold backdrop with text that reads, “New Washington Order.” That inspired a host of responses, and Smoot has retweeted fan designs related to the concept.
So … why Red Wolves?
“I kind of said, ‘All right, how can I go against the grain, first of all?’” Smoot said.
He did that, and then some. Smoot said he wanted to come up with a reference that would still honor American Indians, since he had read an article that owner Dan Snyder is focused on that. He also thought of two other things: the Tennessee Titans and his love for “Game of Thrones.”
The Titans, he said, were more “fictional than anything,” saying it was a name that wouldn’t catch backlash. As for “Game of Thrones,” well, Smoot connected the dots between the Stark family and their connection to wolves — inspiring the Red Wolves.
Mitchell wasn’t as onboard. He said he could see it but expressed concern it wouldn’t fit the criteria for being respectful of American Indians and a tribute to the military. The former running back also wasn’t a big fan of Redtails, another popular name that has been floated.
Instead, Mitchell likes “Warriors.” Clean and simple.
“I haven’t seen anybody say anything negative about it,” he said. “What I’m trying to see is we go to something that’s not offensive to somebody.”
It’s not known how many of the team’s alumni oppose changing the name. Former kicker and league MVP Mark Moseley told WTOP he thinks “most” players would prefer it stay the same. He said changing the name would “take away” from the blood, sweat and tears that greats like Darrell Green and Art Monk put in.
“To change that name would be a hard one for us,” Moseley said.
Other notable alumni have yet to speak out.
Former quarterback Joe Theismann, for instance, declined comment for this story, and the Redskins turned down a request to make Doug Williams available. Monk declined comment through his publicist.
Mitchell, however, said he thinks people will embrace the new name, whatever it is. He pointed out that despite complaints at first, fans got used to the Washington Wizards instead of the Bullets.
“People don’t like change,” Mitchell said, “but ultimately, change happens.”
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