Disaster weekly on the field. Discord daily in the locker room. The coach, hired for the long term in the ever-glorious offseason, probably browsing out-of-town real estate listings instead of drawing up game plans. The punter (the punter!) practically a lock for the Pro Bowl.
Yes, it’s just another December for the local NFL outfit.
This year, of course, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. Jay Gruden would be everything Mike Shanahan hadn’t been as head coach, and then some. Robert Griffin III was healthy again, and he’d finally live up to the promise he showed during his rookie year. DeSean Jackson had moved south from NFC East rivals in Philadelphia. Maybe the defense wouldn’t suck.
But somehow this season, 23 years after the last time the Washington Pigskins won the Super Bowl, felt worse than so many of the ones that preceded it, and not just because the team’s been every bit as bad as it has through most of owner Dan Snyder’s miserable tenure. The mounting criticism of the team’s name grew louder and louder all year, and the team’s response grew more dug in and more tone deaf. First there was the “Original Americans Foundation” Snyder launched in March, which at least might manage to do some good for impoverished tribes, even if he only appeared to be doing it to try to shut up critics of the name. Then there was the ruling in June that the team couldn’t protect its name in federal court because it was derogatory. And then the PR site devoted to defending the name as a badge of honor. And the John Oliver bit about the name. And the South Park episode about the name. And the Daily Show segment. And the announcers on NFL broadcasts who wouldn’t even say it, which for a league that’s so snugly in bed with its TV partners, is remarkable. And then the protest when the team played the Minnesota Vikings. And finally, when things got truly farcical, the Thanksgiving tweet.
Snyder clearly doesn’t want to change the name for the reasons that might have swayed a more reasonable man (it offends people, it’s the only conceivable context in which anyone who isn’t an out-and-out racist would feel comfortable using the word in 2014, and its defenders mostly justify it by saying it’s been around too long to change it, which is hardly a rationale). But maybe next year will be the year he considers renaming for another reason: He’s got to try something to change the team’s luck. After all, a couple more seasons like this one, and even die-hards won’t want to be seen wearing the current merchandise in public. Not because they’re worried they might insult a Native American with it—but because they don’t want anyone to know they’re rooting for such a travesty of a franchise.