Note: This second in a three part series of essays on the NFL and Key & Peele is a fictional story. Y’know, satire. Read Part One here.
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
—Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins.
Poor Dan Snyder, alone on Valentine’s Day. He Google-imaged himself at 1 am and couldn’t get back to sleep.
The words he could handle: “puffy-faced, Napoleonic, coprophiliac homunculus.” They had called him worse in middle school, but never scribbled horns and beard onto his yearbook picture.
In a series of photos, some hack compared his corporate suits to the casual chic of former owner Jack Kent Cooke. The writer wished Snyder was more like Cooke—dead.
Did he really look that short standing next to Jerry Jones and Magic Johnson? He felt like the midget from The Princess Bride.
Snyder smiled when he saw his photograph in The Economist. The article mentioned a survey in which 90% of Native Americans took no offense to the Redskins’ mascot and the existence of several predominantly Native American schools that used the name themselves. But what The Economist said next almost floored him. There were certain words that belonged to history and were larger than a football team’s alleged good intentions. The louder the protestations of innocence, the more suspicious their claims. Since the Redskins were the last NFL team to draft a black player, Mr. Snyder might want to rethink his caps-locked dismissals and, more specifically, their effect on his team’s legacy.
Snyder left the computer and walked down an empty marble hallway. Out the window, he could see the banks of the Potomac. In yet another controversy, a tree falls in the forest and Dan Snyder gets blamed.
Inside the large corner bedroom, his ten-year-old son Gerry was sleeping soundly under a Robert Griffin III blanket. In the late ‘60s, Snyder too had a Redskins security blanket, which he laid out on the living room floor during Redskins games. During commercials, he and his father would face each other for a few snaps of knee football.
The Redskins had always been a family business. Without his family’s help, Snyder might still be working at B. Dalton Books.
Some said Snyder was out of touch because he never had Redskins’ season tickets. Well, in the beginning he couldn’t afford them, and when he was building his empire, he didn’t have the time. Back then, fandom was much simpler. He sometimes wondered if he lacked the detachment of a Robert Kraft or a Dan Rooney. Perhaps he should have stayed with something less glandular, like medical signage.
On the desk near the window was Gerry’s coin collection. When Gerry began collecting the state quarters, Snyder began paying attention to physical money again. He picked up one of the new America the Beautiful quarters and turned it over in his fingers. The back was a close-up of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, with a sculptor, Gutzon Borglum perhaps, rappelling down Thomas Jefferson’s left cheekbone. Behind Jefferson, George Washington appears in profile, and the similarity was so striking that Snyder dropped the quarter.
George Washington, he realized, had the same nose as the Redskins’ mascot. Long, flat, Roman, and stoic. Snyder bent down and picked up the quarter, merrily flipping it in the air. When the quarter fell face-first into his palm, Snyder’s heart pounded. Not just the nose but Washington’s entire profile was almost identical to his beloved Redskins logo. Both Gorgeous George and the Redskin Chief had ponytails. They had already named the capital after him, so why not the football team? He could change the name to the Washington George Washingtons, or the Washington Georges, and give the fans a fresh, yet familiar face. After fifteen years of losing, Snyder could at last become “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Snyder pumped his fist. The team in uniform could resemble George Washington in battle! On a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, his daughters loved Washington’s gold knickers, which already looked like football pants. So the pants would be gold and the jerseys navy with gold epaulets on the shoulders. Alas there could be no high collar, but perhaps a designer could create the illusion of lace—Karl Lagerfield, anyone? His wife would love that.
Changing the team’s name and logo would cost $20 million, but Snyder could profit off the deal. He thought of Alexander Julian, who designed the original Charlotte Hornets jerseys with purple and teal pinstripes. He would need a big name, Ralph Lauren perhaps.
During winter games, the players could wear a navy cape with red lining like Washington crossing the Delaware. The helmet could have the new logo, or even better, a new decal with the exact curls of Washington’s wig that merged into a faux ponytail under the helmet’s inner padding.
RGIII had those glorious braids, but he did wear a wig to one of Snyder’s wife’s breast cancer rallies and looked just like Andre 3000 in the “Hey Ya” video. The Washington Wigs, Snyder thought. Or even better, why not further conceive the team in liberty and name it the Washington Whigs? Every game could be a masquerade, a Whig party. He could a open a wig shop inside Fed Ex Field and sell toupees to bigwigs and bigwigs to the masses. Before the singing of the National Anthem, fans could remove their wigs in honor of cancer’s survivors and victims. The name had the requisite gravity and levity, plus the possibility for reinvention, which Snyder most desperately sought. The Washington Whigs, someone else had thought of that, was it Prince or Phil Jackson?
It was still too early to call his wife in London, but for a few minutes, he would close his eyes on the soft carpeted floor. Then with deep breaths and the fluttering of his eyelids, he saw a Jacob’s ladder of wigs: ponytails, mullets, afros, dreads and jherri curls. He sat up gasping, fists clenching the carpet. Whigs would soon morph into Whiggas. Gold chains, do rags, saggy jeans. Whigga, please. White people would dress up like the characters from Key & Peele’s “East-West Bowl”: Hingle McCringleberry, Ozamataz Buckshank, Eqqsquistine Buble-Schwinslow, Squeeeeeeeeps, and Donkey Teeth. They could have the best wigs in the world, and the PC Police would scalp them all.
“Donkey Teeth, Boise State University.”
A mascot, by definition, needed to represent both team and city. The Washington Nationals was too abstract, and the Washington Wizards was plain dumb. The Redskins was a noble savage paradox, a negative stereotype that, in the eyes of the Oneida Nation, fostered diabetes and alcoholism. Perhaps only the Sphinx could redeem our nation’s capital.
For his school’s Thanksgiving musical, Snyder had thought his son would dress up like an Indian. Instead he chose a turkey. “There will be a whole tribe of Redskins, but I will be the only turkey at school,” his son said.
Snyder wanted to awaken his beloved son for a game of knee football. With his Gerry’s blessing, the team would have a new mascot: the Washington Turkeys. The fans could keep their headdress and feathers, and Snyder could sell a gang of turkey legs. Gobble, gobble, America. Perhaps Ben Franklin was a Washingtonian, after all. Along with turkey feathers, fans could wear coonskin caps like Franklin wore when he charmed the ladies in Paris. Snyder slapped his forehead. The Washington Coonskins? Whigga, please.
George Washington freed his slaves and allowed for Native Americans to retain tribal sovereignty. With such thoughts, a mischievous grin appeared on Snyder’s face. With Donkey Teeth, he could honor George Washington and sell plenty of gold grills and redneck dentures. Hail to Donkey Teeth, Hail to victory!
Snyder then saw his mouth with diamond-crusted Billy Bob teeth and blushed a deep crimson. He had no business selling wigs or turkey legs or coonskin caps or donkey teeth or even football tickets, for that matter. As the sun rose above the bald, towering oaks, he crawled in bed next to his son, pulled the RGIII blanket over his eyes and fell fast asleep.
Read Part One here.
Spenser Simrill, Jr. teaches English and film at the University of Georgia.