By Robert McCartney,
More than 40,000 fans of the Washington Football Team have suggested new names to replace the old one that shall go unmentioned. This writer, a longtime season ticket holder, has a preference. It would link the team’s future with its once-glorious past without offending Native Americans or anyone else.
The Washington Red Wolves.
The choice offers multiple advantages. Wolves are quick and aggressive, just as we want our players to be. The red wolf, now a critically endangered species, is the only large canid, or member of the dog family, that was native to our region. It would be easy to rewrite the fight song as “Hail to the Red Wolves!” (see proposed lyrics toward the end.)
Red Wolves — or Redwolves, one word — is among the most frequently suggested options in the debate preoccupying fans when we’re not obsessing over the team’s draft picks. Other top possibilities are Warriors, Red Tails (honoring the Tuskegee airmen) and keeping what was assumed to be a temporary placeholder: Washington Football Team, or WFT.
Any new name won’t be in place until the 2022 season. The team announced the collection of 39,783 fan submissions 10 days ago, and the number has risen since then.
Now it will narrow the options to a shortlist of finalists. After that, WFT President Jason Wright said in a message to fans, “we will still need to go through the months-long work of legal wrangling, trademarking, merchandising feasibility and dozens of other uninteresting but really important steps that go into the launch of a new name.”
Parts of the process remain mysterious. The team hasn’t released the full list of potential names included in separate surveys — each with a different list — sent to season ticket holders. The team insists it may be considering names that the surveys didn’t include, which would seem to be self-defeating.
On the bright side, the team confirms that burgundy and gold will remain the team’s noble colors.
“We’re trying to connect the past and the future,” said Julie Jensen, the team’s senior vice president for external engagement and communications. “This is not an expansion team.”
Before enumerating all the benefits of Red Wolves, let’s consider some of the proposed alternatives.
First, I must politely disagree with my talented Sports colleague, columnist Barry Svrluga, who wants to stick with Washington Football Team.
It’s different and dignified, but it just doesn’t work on many levels. It doesn’t fit in the song, and how do you refer to the players? One local sports talk radio host adds the letter “i” to the WFT acronym and calls them the “Wifts.” Yuck. The New York Times calls them the “Footballers,” which is kind of classy but awkward.
Branding experts predict the team will drop WFT, partly because a new moniker would help create a memorable logo.
“I don’t think they’ll keep it,” said Jimmy Lynn, who teaches sports marketing and related subjects at Georgetown University. “There are cool things with the branding and logo that you can’t do with Washington Football Team.”
As for other possibilities: Washington Warriors has the advantage of alliteration, but it could draw criticism for being militaristic. Also, the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors have heard calls to change their name on the grounds that it originally referred to Native American fighters.
Red Tails would justly honor African American airmen who served in segregated units in World War II. But it also would be a constant reminder of past racial discrimination, and some former pilots have been skeptical.
A team website lists a handful of “featured fan submissions,” complete with uniform designs. They include Revolution, Memorials, Owls and Rhinos, along with Redwolves, Warriors and Redtails.
I conducted an informal, entirely unscientific survey of more than a dozen friends and other fellow fans and got the following responses: four votes for Red Wolves, two each for Warriors and Washington Football Team, and one apiece for Red Tails, Wolves, Timber Wolves, Senators, Defenders, Rough Riders and Dukes (honoring D.C. native Duke Ellington).
Disdain was expressed for some other options:
Heritage: “Sounds like a Confederate monument.”
Warthogs: “Too ugly.”
Seals: “Better for cities that actually see them.”
Legends, Liberty, Freedom, Heroes: “Too generic.”
Presidents: “Only good for racing around the track” (at Washington Nationals games).
Lacking such drawbacks is Red Wolves. Although the species is not around here today, its original habitat extended from New Jersey south along the Atlantic seaboard and as far west as Texas.
Today fewer than 20 are alive in the wild, in northeast North Carolina near the Outer Banks. About 250 are alive in captivity.
People trying to save the species would welcome the team’s adoption of the name.
“We would be thrilled to have them represented by such a big football team,” said Heather Clarkson, a North Carolina-based representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “It would make for a natural education opportunity.”
She had a caveat: The group would like to have Native Americans involved in the choice, given the controversy over the earlier name.
Another plus: Red wolves are loyal partners. They mate for life.
There are two disadvantages. First, some fans, Native American groups and other interested parties object to keeping “red” as the first syllable of a new name. They think a complete break with the old moniker is necessary.
I don’t buy it. The team has surrendered to critics by making the change. There’s no harm in keeping the word “red” in a completely different context, and it creates a bridge for fans.
“As a marketing professional, my experience has been that people want new things that remind them of familiar things,” said Cary Hatch, chief executive of MDB Communications, a D.C. advertising and marketing communication firm.
The other risk is a potential trademark challenge. It so happens that Arkansas State University chose the name “Red Wolves” for its teams when it gave up “Indians” for familiar reasons in 2008.
The school holds a federal trademark for “Red Wolves,” and has gone to court seeking to force the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Red Wolves, a professional soccer team, to drop the name.
It’s a headache, but one that quiet bargaining backed by deep pockets can relieve.
“At the end of the day, it’s a check,” such as for scholarships for low-income students, Georgetown’s Lynn said. “There are lots of amicable ways to go about it.”
As for the fight song, here’s my proposal. Main change is in line 2:
Hail to the Red Wolves! Hail victory!
Pack hunts for touchdowns. Fight for old D.C.!
Run or pass and score, we want a lot more.
Beat ’em, swamp ’em, crush ’em, let the points soar.
Fight on, fight on, ’till you have won, sons of Washington!
(Repeat first two lines.)
Whatever is picked, dissent is ensured. Wright, the team president, said, “There is no way to land a new brand without some dissatisfaction.”
But this fan is convinced Red Wolves would fare far better than most.