Washington Redskins Name Change Must Account for Fight Song

Washington Redskins

If Owner Daniel Snyder ever gives into the swelling public opinion to change the name of his team, fans in Washington hope he will take into account the importance of the fight song Hail to the Redskins. Played by the team band and sung by fans after every touchdown, the song is synonymous with the team. Assuming Snyder relents and changes the name in the future, the new name will need to synch with the fight song so that an important fan tradition can survive.

The lyrics of the song were written around 1937 by the wife of then Owner George Preston Marshall, Corinne Griffith. The tune was composed by Redskins marching band leader Barnee Breeskin. Marshall formed the band and pushed for a fight song to add pageantry to each home game. The words have changed some over the years. As initially sung, the words to the song contained a reference to Dixie. At the time, the reference fit because the Washington team was the only one as far south as the Mason-Dixon Line and was the favored pro football team in the South.  Precedent exists for changing the words of the iconic fight song; however, a name change for the Washington team without taking into account how it meshes with Hail to the Redskins could make the popular anthem unworkable.

The seeds of the rivalry between the Redskins  and the Cowboys may have been sown from a dispute related to the fight song. Marshall and Breeskin were in a dispute back in the late 1950’s and to annoy Marshall, Breeskin sold the rights to the song to Clint Murchison. Marshall opposed an NFL expansion franchise in Dallas and also found himself at odds with the proposed Dallas Cowboys owner Murchison. The wily owner of the Texas team would not let the Skins  use Hail to the Redskins  unless Marshall voted in favor of the new franchise. After Marshall relented, Murchison returned the favor and sold the song back to the Redskins .

This past week, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reached a 2-1 decision to cancel the patents on six trademark registrations owned by the team due to “disparaging” content. The controversy over the team name continues unabated. Snyder has dug in his heals and the opposition chorus grows louder and louder. The erstwhile owner has attempted to put a band aid on the issue by starting a foundation to assist various Native American initiatives and has hired public relations firms to attempt to tamp down the controversy. Given that 50 US Senators penned a letter to the team to encourage a name change, the chances that the opposition will quiet down seems somewhat remote. Although the Redskins  assert that most Native Americans support the team name, many people find the assertion somewhat laughable.

Many Redskins  fans concede that the name change will need to occur at some point. Although the patent decision will not really impact the team and Snyder much, trademark experts explain that common law rights to the name exist regardless of the patent office’s stance, the swelling tide of public opinion against the name will likely force the change. If change does occur, the new name will need to be one that meshes with the fight song. In order for the change to work for all, Snyder must consider how the new team name fits with Hail to the Redskins. For instance, something like “Warriors” is not compatible with the song. Washington Redskins fans at Fedex Field will expect to sing the fight song after every score no matter the team name, so those deciding on a new moniker in the future must assure the name fits the tune.

Commentary by William Costolo

The Hogs
USA Today

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