The Pigskins Shame Spiral is an occasional feature tracking developments related to the name of D.C.’s beloved football team.
Who: The Washington Football Team
Change the name? Of course not. The team’s management is digging in their cleats after sporting goods company Adidas—worth $18 billion and official sponsor of Pigskins quarterback Robert Griffin III—today announced “a nationwide voluntary initiative for high schools who want to change mascot names and identities.” The program will furnish students with the company’s design and financial resources provided that they plan to rid their schools of “potentially harmful Native American imagery or symbolism.”
“High school social identities are central to the lives of young athletes, so it’s important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete,” Mark King, president of Adidas Group North America, said in a statement. “But the issue is much bigger… In many cities across our nation, the high school and its sports teams take center stage in the community and the mascot and team names become an everyday rallying cry.” About 2,000 American high schools use team names that “cause concern” among tribes, Adidas adds.
Why? We can’t presume to explain the Pigskins’ recalcitrance, so we’ll let them speak for themselves. “The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd,” a team spokesperson said of Adidas’ announcement in a statement. “Adidas make hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams.” Playing the hypocrisy card, huh? Haven’t heard of that one before, football team!
Shame Spiral rating: SMDH. This isn’t about business as usual; this is about inching (ever so slowly) towards a scenario in which historically disadvantaged minorities won’t have to deal with a major cultural institution throwing blatant discrimination in their faces. “Adidas clearly understands that in 2015, businesses cannot sit on the sideline on this issue and that they must choose which side they are on,” anti-R-word group Change the Mascot says in a statement. “It is inspiring to see that Adidas has chosen to be on the side of inclusivity and mutual respect and has set an example for others to follow.” A name-change for the Pigskins may not happen for a long while—perhaps not until more-inclusive high schoolers become adults and norms shift—but at least this is a step in the right direction.
Illustration by Jandos Rothstein