It's one of my first memories. I was five when my father bought me Braves on the Warpath: The Fifty Greatest Games in History of the Washington Redskins. I bounded down the DC street, waving it with pride like a maniac. To this day, I still scroll through its familiar pages: Doug Williams winning the Super Bowl, my hero Gary Clark scoring touchdowns. Once, when visiting my grandparents in Canton, Ohio during elementary school summers, we called the Pro Football Hall of Fame's film library to ask if they would play old Redskins videos. There I was, a weird kid happily watching decades-old highlights.
When my family moved to New England, fortunately I stuck with the Redskins. I can hardly remember the stress of having your team in the Super Bowl, but my Patriot fan friends constantly had to deal with that.
Because I believe my loyalty through persistent failure is a virtue, I treasure moments like being at FedExField when Robert Griffin led us past the Cowboys to NFL East title. Though as someone who once said Beck/Helu/Hankerson would be the NFL's big three, it's also clear that I love my team hopelessly.
Whether right or wrong, this loyalty in sports matters to us in a deep way. I never forgot Drew Carey crying on TV when Cleveland lost the Browns. It's wrapped up with family and who we are.
But there are perspectives beyond our own, and history that goes beyond sports.
Recently I read a Facebook post from a friend, South Dakota State Representative Kevin Killer, member of Oglala Lakota Nation. It was a picture of one of our fans wearing a terrible imitation of Native American attire (but with a Hogs' snout) holding a sign that said, "Keep the Name." Kevin wrote that the picture was shameful.
As I noted my friend's indignation, I remembered a fan at FedEx yelling towards the field, "Scalp 'em!" I recalled how after one of my many Redskin-related rants on Facebook, describing my "suffering" as a fan, another friend, Danielle Hill -- who works everyday on behalf of her Mashpee Wampanoag tribe -- pointed out the irony of my use of the word.
Often social progress happens in America when people get beyond an abstract idea and talk with the neighbors and friends who are actually affected. That rarely happens on this issue since too few of us interact with people we recognize as Native Americans on a daily basis.
A recent Daily Show segment surprised a group of Redskins fans by having Native American activists show up and express why they believe the name should be changed. It was difficult to watch, and the painful aftermath made it clear that we are not actually comfortable with the team name when around those depicted by our mascot.
Like a lot of Washington fans, I kind of avoided the issue. But something shifted for me once I knew how my friends Kevin and Danielle felt. If I was with them every Sunday, I can't imagine I would be throwing around the term "Redskins" and that is a pretty good litmus test for whether I should use it at all.
I cannot argue with research showing that mascots affect Native children's self-esteem and mental health. To think that if only Dan Snyder could explain the name's meaning more and have people read Redskinsfacts.com, Danielle and Kevin would change their minds seems at best fanciful and at worst insulting. This is their life and reality. In digging in on our case for the name, I suspect the people we are ultimately trying to convince that this is right is ourselves.
Others can and do articulate Native American perspectives on this issue, so what I can speak to is simply our self-respect as fans. That can only be fully restored that by ending our association with this name. I want to have the moral maturity to respect other's feelings above sentiments wrapped up in my childhood. I don't want my team pride to come at someone else's offense. In fact, I have come to realize that really loving my team means to elevate our own self-respect as true fans -- and wanting us to do better.
Knowing Redskins history means being aware that, like many franchises, we have changed our name before. The true primal identification is with the history, place and the fan's passion. With national reporters refusing to even say our name, one has to conclude that this is unsustainable.
So what to do? I have heard decent ideas for new names such as the Generals or the Founders. My personal favorite comes from Kevin Glover of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and a member of the Pawnee people. He says change the name to the Americans. Given the associations that will always remain with the franchise, it would also be a powerful statement about who are the first Americans. It gets us past divisiveness and to the one thing we all love cheering for: America.
It's hard knowing anything about Native American history and still using the words "sacrifice" or "burden" seriously in reference to us adapting to a new name. Loving our team no longer means defending the Redskin name; now it means loving our team enough to say that I'm in for the future. I'm in for changing our name for the better.
During those Hall of Fame visits as a kid, I remember seeing footage of Pennsylvania Ave. packed with fans for our 1988 Super Bowl victory parade. At the White House, President Reagan even threw a ball to Ricky Sanders. We won't have a full city and region on our side like that again until it is a team we can all cheer for. I'm ready for that.