Normally Cockburn isn’t much of a sports fan, notwithstanding the occasional boozy tailgate for his local kickball team (which was disbanded years ago). But even he couldn’t help but blow his whistle this morning when he learned that the Washington Football Team, formerly the Washington Redskins, had changed its name to the Washington Commanders.
At first blush, the Commanders isn’t such a bad choice. The franchise, after all, is based in the very seat of our military-industrial complex. Certainly it’s a better choice than, say, the Washington Corporals (too low-rank) or the Washington Raytheon Lobbyists (too on the nose). And Commanders does have a distinctly DC oomph to it. The job of a commander, after all, is to take charge and call the shots, just as every Capitol Hill intern imagines himself to be doing.
The problem, as always, arises from identity politics. Cockburn can’t help but note that most commanders throughout history have been men. And while women can be commanders too — Cockburn recalls the “commanderette” from Spaceballs — the word does summon to mind a certain masculine caricature: shaved head, gravelly voice, cigar in mouth, finger on the button.
That could be trouble for the Washington team, and not only because such a figure doesn’t make for an especially peppy mascot. The Redskins ditched their name precisely in order to mollify identity-obsessed activists, the sorts who get upset about not just skin color but gender. And Cockburn stresses that word: activists. A Washington Post poll found that nine in ten Native Americans don’t consider the Redskins name to be offensive. It was always the professional pot-stirrers who were wound up; the average person, indigenous or not, has bigger fish to fry.
Also having bigger fish to fry is the Washington Commanders. Because while Cockburn congratulates them on having attained military rank, he can’t help but think they should have invested this creative energy elsewhere. This is the same organization that once had Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Kyle Shanahan on the same roster. Today, all three are NFL head coaches whose organizations made this year’s playoffs (McVay’s Rams are headed to the Super Bowl), while the Skins/Team/Manders haven’t won a playoff game since 2005.
Changing the team name isn’t going to fix that. Any Washingtonian will tell you that the real problem is Dan Snyder, the team’s meddling and widely detested owner (who incidentally defended the Redskins name for many years). Either way, Cockburn fears that the activists aren’t yet done. As someone called Crystal Echo Hawk told ESPN today, “The [Kansas City] Chiefs have to step up and follow the lead and be on the right side of history.”
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