The Washington NFL squad needs a new name very badly, if only so that I can stop starting these columns with sentences that awkwardly cram in the phrase “the Washington NFL squad.” And for the first time, it looks like it’s really happening.
After years of grimly weathering the heartfelt pleas of Native American activists and their allies, ignoring editorials from local newspapers and angry hipster T-shirts from local bloggers, and just generally not seeming to care about the derogatory definition of the name, it looks like the wave of social upheaval sparked by the killing of a Black man in Minnesota is going to be what finally forces owner Daniel Snyder to change the team’s name.
And, of course, because this is the Washington NFL team, that change is occurring in a bizarrely hurried fashion while the team tries to figure out how to install a new offense during a pandemic and three of the team’s minority owners make some kind of play to either sell their stake or force Snyder to sell his. Also, based on statements head coach Ron Rivera has made, the name should somehow also be a tribute to the military, for reasons thus far left unexplained beyond the generally friendly relationship between the NFL and the military, and the high regard that Rivera, who grew up as a military brat, has for military life.
The anecdotal favorite for a new name is Warriors, a choice that has the distinct advantage of not being a dictionary-defined racial slur but almost nothing else going for it. It isn’t original, it isn’t particularly related to the team’s history, and Native American activists don’t view this as much of an improvement over the current situation. (See the Not Your Mascots non-profit, which opposes the use of Indigenous identity as mascots with or without overtly racist monikers.)
The current odds-on favorite, according to at least one sportsbook, is Redtails. It’s a choice that ticks a lot of the boxes: It has the same scansion and first letter as the team’s current name, which means you can keep your #HTTR hashtags and (if you want) the basic melody and structure of the fight song, as well as the circle-R throwback helmets. It’s a reference to the Tuskegee Airmen, so it’s not only military-related (which, again, is apparently important for some reason?) but also specific to Black Americans in the military, which could serve as a kind of symbolic makeup for the franchise’s terrible, unarguably racist early days. It makes it easy to keep the colors, which is probably good from a branding perspective. But there’s also nothing about it that is specific to D.C. or to the good parts of the franchise’s history, so you’re not doing anything to soften the blow for those fans who are threatening to quit supporting the team if the name changes.
(In my opinion, those fans are wrong and should be made to feel bad about being wrong. All those memories will still be there. You can have loved the team under their old name and still be a fan of them under the new one. This is not a retroactive change. You and your dad or grandma or whoever watched those old games just like you will still remember it. Suck it up. Obviously, though, the team has a strong financial incentive to try to appease those folks a little more than I do, so I’m trying to think accordingly.)
Back in the team’s glory days of 30 years ago, the offensive line was called the Hogs, which became a synecdoche for the team as a whole—you could get hog-related gear, or wear a hog nose with your favorite dress, and it was clear to everyone that you were rooting for Washington’s football team, not just the offensive line. But Hogs doesn’t scan in the fight song and it doesn’t have any obvious tie-in to the military (which, yet again, is inexplicably part of this conversation), so it seems like something of a non-starter.
I thought of Warhogs, which fixes the fight song issue, adds a military component (of a sort, I guess?), and has the advantage of sounding familiar without actually being a real word (thanks to the semi-homophonic “warthogs”). But adding a prefix to Hogs largely undoes the nostalgia push you’re trying for, and the whole thing winds up just feeling slightly icky. It doesn’t help that the main search result for “warhogs” is a book about war profiteering with the subtitle “a history of war profits in America”—probably not a great start when you’re forcing a military reference into your team name for ill-defined reasons.
But if we’re looking at Hogs primarily as a sop to the sad fans who feel like they’re losing a vital remnant of their childhoods, then maybe we don’t need to be so precious about making the fight song work. If a constant reminder of the good years is enough to make people OK with eliminating the fight song and finding a new hashtag then all we need to do is (for some reason) figure out a militaristic tie to the Hogs.
And what do you know: A cursory internet search turns up the idea that for U.S. Marine snipers, HOG is a euphemism for “hunter of gunmen,” and a “Hog’s Tooth” is the nickname for the commemorative 7.62×51mm NATO round given to a Marine upon completion of scout/sniper school. So not only do you get your (inexplicable) military tie-in, you also get to pay tribute to the last major D.C. sports team name that got changed due to social upheaval and use a bullet as one of your symbols.
Heck, use the “hog’s tooth”/bullet connection to design a helmet that replaces the spear on the late-1960’s helmet with a speeding sniper bullet, use a more friendly pig as your mascot/secondary image, and you’ve got the best of all worlds—a little bit of Raiders-style swagger, a little bit of the Panthers’ Sir Purr friendliness, a firm tie to the good days of the 1980s, a stylistic tie to the nice helmets of the 1960s, a connection to D.C.’s basketball history, and a name that’s infinitely less disparaging to Native Americans. And really, #HTTH has a nice ring to it, anyhow.
(Plus Hogs is currently +5,000 at that sportsbook, so we could all turn a tidy profit if you act quickly!)
Photo by KA Sports Photos on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.