Shakespeare asked whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The question’s more complicated than it looks.Take the moniker of the Washington Redskins. By revoking the squad's trademark, the US Patent and Trademark Agency did its bit this week to get the football team to change its name from one that is patently "disparaging to Native Americans."
Unless you can make the case that the team's market value would go down if it changed its name -- and that's a hard case to make -- there are only sentimental reasons for resisting the writing that's on the wall.
Team owner Dan Snyder has no intention of making a change. To him "Redskins" must be as innocent as the games of Cowboys and Indians that kids used to play. Good clean juvenile red-blooded American fun.
But say he kept an open mind. There are a lot of options, and remember he is legally entitled to keep using the logo and image associated with the 'Skins. From the summer-camp practice of pitting the “shirts” versus the “skins” in games of pick-up basketball, he could opt for the Washington Red Shirts. In time this would be abbreviated to Reds, just as baseball’s Cincinnati Redlegs became the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Stockings became the Chicago White Sox..
But where’s the gain in doing that – other than good will toward a group that is sensitive to its unique place in American history? There's no getting around it. The native Americans, who were here before the rest of us, were vilified, its people depicted as savages and brutes, when in fact the tribes were routinely victmized as the United States moved is frontier to the Pacific Ocean.
Snyder is the defiant type. Perhaps he fears that his fan base will lose its ardor if he caves. Maybe it's a macho thing, a bit of Republican resistance to the forces of political correctness.
Or maybe he just hasn't come up with the right new name that will set his spirits soaring?
Here's a suggestion. Surely Dan remembers the old Washington Senators, hapless cellar-dwellers, in the 1950s when the mighty Yankees diominated baseball. The joke had it that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” There was even a novel about the plight of the Senators’ fan: Douglas Wallop’s The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. It was turned into one of the immortal musicals of the 1950s, Damn Yankees -- with great songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a superb performance by Gwen Verdon as the naughty bawdy temptress Lola. "Whatever Lola wants, Lola Gets." She it was "who took the wind out of the sails / Of the Prince of Wales."
In Damn Yankees, the long-suffering fan makes a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for a Senators’ pennant. It turns out that the devil is a Yankee fan, but you’ll get no more spoilers from me -- except to say that the show's all about "heart": "When the odds are saying, you'll never win / That's when the grin / Should start."
There is, at the moment, no Washington team bearing the name of the Senators. If you’re Dan Snyder, you could change that in a flash. I say, keep the logo and the helmet, but embrace the heritage of the Washington Senators and see if you can't get the perennial losers to redeem themselves.
I am open to other suggestions and hope that readers will suggest away -- just in case Dan is one of the blog's secret admirers. -- DL