City Paper is not for tourists
Scalp ’em, swamp ’em
We will take ’em big score
Read ’em, weep ’em, touchdown
We want heap more
Fight on, Fight on
‘Til you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton.
”Hail to the Redskins,” original lyrics
Gerald Pressman, being a good lefty, decided long ago that when he retired from elementary school teaching he’d throw himself into some cause that might make the world a better place. For years, he even built up a folder of projects to undertake when he had the time. Now 64 and without a day job, he’s picked his starter task.
Pressman won’t be tackling global warming or promoting medical use of marijuana. He just wants the Redskins to change their name.
Last fall, during the seasonwhen, year after year, he used to introduce himself to another new class of Fairfax County elementary studentsthe D.C. native and Falls Church resident founded Find Another Name, a national network of activists working to eliminate offensive team monikers, mascots, and game-day rituals used by pro and amateur sports franchises. It’s essentially his full-time job, though he receives not a dime for his work.
When not communing via Internet or phone with like-minded folks, Pressman takes his campaign to college campuses and even elementary schools to talk to students about what he regards as the patently offensive nature of the home team’s name. He is planning to state his case to visitors to the team’s training camp in Carlisle, Pa.the Redskins traditional summer home and, coincidentally, where Jim Thorpe, known as the greatest Indian football player ever, played college ball.
Nobody needs to remind Pressman that he’s not the first crusader of this sort, but he remains focused on his mission. Not only because of guilt accrued during a lifetime of rooting for a team whose name is, by a long shot, Enemy No. 1 among his new peers, a group for whom “Wounded Knee” doesn’t conjure up Tre’ Johnson’s injury report. But because he thinks it’s a wrong that can be righted.
“Listen, I’ve been a Redskins fan for about 60 years now,” Pressman tells me. “I went to games at Griffith Stadium and rooted for Sammy Baugh, which is one of those things that grants you real fan status around here. But this is something that is so obvious to me and, I think, everybody who has ever taken the time to think about it: ‘Redskins’ is patently offensive to a lot of people, and it has to go. And it will. But the sad truth is that the Native American groups on their own won’t be able to pull this off.”
Pressman, like all anti-Redskins advocates, has had a good couple of weeks lately. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a public declaration that Native American mascots and team names are inappropriate for schools and universities. Though they’d hoped the commission would include professional enterprises in its decree, it’s still one more, well, feather in the cap of those who share Pressman’s cause. And the superintendent of schools for the state of New York said that his agency will look at the issue and make recommendations about whether the more than 70 institutions under his purview that now use Native American monikers should come up with alternative nicknames.
But even with those little victories, other naming issues are on the front burner locally. Rep. Bob Barr has championed the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which aims for some sort of consecration of the former president in each of the 3,067 counties in this country. Barr’s threat to cut off Metro funds if the subway station nearest the airport now known as Ronald Reagan Washington National isn’t renamed on behalf of the deteriorating cold warrior has gotten much more attention than has the decree from the Commission on Civil Rights. (Barr’s office didn’t respond to calls asking whether the congressman would support the renaming of the football team to the Washington Reagans as part of his crusade.)
The timing for a name change has never been better, however. New coach Marty Schottenheimer seems intent, and with good reason, on demolishing the sorry on-field legacy that he inherited from Norv Turner. Next year’s lineup will look as much like the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs as it will the 2000 Skins. There have even been rumblings thatsay it ain’t so!Herr Schottenheimer will do away with Darrell Green’s spot on the roster to signal the new dawn. So much for tradition.
And, Pressman reasons, the relatively new ownership is, on paper at least, by far the least averse to a name change of all the proprietors in the team’s history. Founder George Preston Marshall, who named the team in 1933, had a despicable record on race matters. Washington, remember, was the last NFL franchise to integrate its roster, and Marshall agreed to do so, in 1962, after the U.S. Department of the Interior threatened to prevent him from using D.C. Stadium for its home games.
Marshall’s successor, Edward Bennett Williams, when confronted with the naming issue, agreed only to alter the lyrics of the fight song in 1972 to take out the bogus Indian dialect and the “fight for old Dixie” passage. (Marshall’s wife, Corinne Griffith, had authored the original.)
Daniel Snyder, for all his gouging and anti-fan tendencies, has shown himself to be racially progressive, intentionally or not. Although the team had never had a nonwhite head coach, Snyder’s top two choices to replace Turner last seasonRay Rhodes, who wisely refused the post, and Terry Robiskie, who accepted itare black.
“I really think Daniel Snyder’s going to be the one to change the name,” says Pressman. “I’m counting on the fact that he’s from another generation and that he’s Jewish and would be more sensitive to these issues. I hear that no matter how tough a guy he is at business, he’s a caring person, and the trump card is that he’s got little kids, and at some point he’s going to have to explain to them issues like why if people are offended by being called ‘Redskins’ it’s OK to have a team named that. And at that point, rather than acting on something that comes from a bunch of courts, he’ll say, ‘I’m going to take a giant leap for fair play,’ and I think that’s where our victory comes.”
Just as he won’t throw out new names he believes are suitable”That’s something we never, ever get into,” he saysPressman won’t predict exactly when the name change will go down, allowing him to tackle another cause.
“I hope it’s soon. I’d like to get onto something else,” he says.
“Well, yeah,” he says. “Maybe.” Dave McKenna