On Sunday, Washington began its NFL season like it had begun so many in the past 15 years. They were dominated, embarrassed and lost.
At this point, it's becoming hard to reconcile this franchise with the one that was an NFC power for the 1980's and 1990's. In fact, the first Super Bowl I remember watching featured Doug Williams dissecting the Broncos. The first article I ever wrote in my life, for a grade school newspaper, was a game story for Washington's Super Bowl win over Buffalo.
Yet on Sunday night, the loss wasn't the lead story on the news, despite the fact that everyone in this city was wearing a jersey on Sunday.
Sure, the team was the lead story. But it was, per usual, about the never-ending name debate and protests that had sprung up in Houston.
It's frankly beyond tiresome at this point because the name is racist. There shouldn't be a debate. However, the results of Sunday's game illuminate why this issue is not going away for a long, long time.
With the removal of Donald Sterling, Dan Snyder is now clearly the worst owner in sports. There are few contenders to that spot. He has systematically destroyed the faith of fans and made one mind-boggling decision after another.
A family friend and die-hard fan once told me: "I try to think about them winning the Super Bowl but I just can't let myself see that [expletive deleted] holding the Lombardi Trophy."
That quote accurately sums up why Dan Snyder is never going to change the name. At this point, I'm not sure what it would take. All I can think of is the threat of the NFL taking the team away but I don't even see how the mechanics of that would work.
As the name debate continues to fester nationwide, it is remarkable to witness the disconnect between that narrative and the attitudes within the District and the DMV. No one here wants the name change. That's a blanket statement -- there are obviously some that do -- but the vast majority do not want the name to change.
In a way, you cannot blame them. Sure, they sound ignorant and misguided, but it truly comes from a reasonable place. To them, the R-word only represents their team and is not derogatory in any way to Native Americans. When they say it, when they sing the fight song, when they wear the logo, they are not being inherently or purposely racist. They are being racist, even if unwittingly.
Yet, it is the one and only issue in which the fanbase supports Dan Snyder. It has become a badge of honor. Like the moronic Brady Hoke talking about "true" Michigan fans, supporting the name has become the code of a "true" Washington fan.
For everyone associated with the team, from the fans to the employees, there is no joy in Mudville. The team sucks on the field, again. Jay Gruden appeared to be a dud hire from day 1 and he has not absolutely nothing to change that opinion. RG3 still does not look like the same guy he was in his rookie season and it's starting to feel like he never will. Kirk Cousins isn't that great either. It's bad. It's always bad.
So that's why Dan Snyder teases the fan with a new RFK Stadium that will never come. That's why he tells reporters to write in ALL CAPS that he'll never change the name. He needs to give the fans something they can support that will actually come through for them.
When I mentioned the lead story was the name debate that may have come across as a bad thing. If you were a self-respecting NFL owner, it would be. If you're Dan Snyder, it's a nice sleight of hand. Instead of answering questions about why the team is losing – questions you have no answer for – you can bloviate about how the nickname is actually a term of endearment. You can take shots at Congress and rally the fans around you.
During his entire time as owner, Washington fans hated Dan Snyder. They loathed him. They wanted him not just to leave, but to fall into a pit of fire and die a painful death.
Suddenly, the name debate emerged and they respect him. They support him. They back him.
In my entire life of following sports, I have never seen anything like it. This is a group of fans who have been subjected to one of the worst franchises in the NFL for two decades, following two decades of playoff appearances and Super Bowl wins. They have been won over by the crappy owner's undying devotion to a racist nickname.
In light of Ray Rice, the name debate will again retreat to the backburner. The name supporters will revel in the fact that their controversy is less important than other controversies. But it will bubble up again, no later than their trip to Minnesota in November where the Vikings play at the University of Minnesota stadium and the R-word will not be displayed anywhere.
The cycle will begin anew. National commentators will call for change. Local fans will rally around the racism and support the name. Nothing will change.
Dan Snyder has to change the name. He knows it. Everyone knows it. But he will not. At least not until he is backed into a position where he can do so while becoming the beloved martyr that he fancies himself.
It's a pathetic, sad existence for a football team.
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