Editor’s note: This article was originally published 7/16/2020, shortly after it was announced that the Washington Redskins would be changing their team nickname.
The Washington Redskins are no more, and this Marine thinks it’s time for the Washington Redtails.
I would love to see the Washington Redskins do a total 180 and become the Washington Redtails, the nickname of the first Black military aviators who flew 15,000+ missions during WW II. Logos by @mbingcrosby + @cdauphin. pic.twitter.com/rEZNQ1Cvba
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 13, 2020
Earlier this week, it was announced that the Washington Redskins will be getting a new name, in a decision that has proven a bit controversial in the political arena. From my vantage point, gleefully removed from the politics of it all and without a real stake in Washington’s football franchise, I welcome this change with open arms for a few important reasons.
Recognizing the heroism of the brave Black Americans the “Redtails” name comes from
Related: Bessie Coleman: The world’s first black female civilian pilot
If you’re not already familiar with the story of the real Redtails (also sometimes called the Red Tails), it really is one worth honoring in the most American of sports. Back in World War II, the United States military was still segregated. Black Americans, while expected to serve, were not allowed in many combat roles.
You may not have heard the name “Redtails” before, but you’ve almost certainly heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. These brave pilots were the U.S. Army Air Corps’ (the predecessor to the Air Force) first Black aviators, earning the Tuskegee name from the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama that they trained on.
Related: USAF Recruiting unveils ‘Red Tails’ paint scheme on racecars
Many white bomber pilots didn’t know that the legendary Redtails were indeed Black pilots at the time, but thanks to their fighting prowess, it soon didn’t matter. Prejudice be damned, the Redtails were often requested for particularly daring missions, as they’d gained a reputation for their courage and technical skill. In all, the Redtails flew more than 15,000 individual sorties over Europe and North Africa during the war, and more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Here at Sandboxx News, one of our contributors is actually the grandson of one of those Tuskegee Airmen. Harry Alford writes about entrepreneurship in the military sphere, and is the co-founder of Humble Ventures.
“I’m a lifelong Washingtonian and I’ve never felt comfortable supporting a team with such a disparaging, racial and offensive name for a mascot. I am very supportive of the name change,” Alford explains.
“In particular, I’m especially excited at the potential of the new name, Redtails. As the grandson of one of the original five Tuskegee Airman, Charles DeBow, this would mean the world to me. The name change signifies a new path forward while honoring the past as well as those who currently serve our country today.”
In a very real way, the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group, flying planes with bright red painted tails (hence the name Redtails), not only proved to be some of the most heroic aviators of the war, they also helped bring about an end to military segregation. If you ask me, that’s a pretty cool namesake for a football team playing out of America’s capital city.
Paying respect to the military community
Related: Pat Tillman: The legacy of an athlete, patriot and Soldier
In America today, the fact that the Redtails were pioneering Black aviators really matters, but these brave pilots fall into another important socio-economic category that the former Washington Redskins can honor: military service personnel.
America’s Armed Forces truly do represent a vibrant cross-section of American cultures and backgrounds, but it has become increasingly apparent in recent studies that America’s military is largely made up of people from what you might call a “warrior class” of Americans. About 80% of those who choose to volunteer to serve in America’s military have a direct family member who served as well. In other words, for most of us, serving in the military could be seen as getting into the “family business.” I’m no exception–my father served in Vietnam as an Army medic and my grandfather was a Marine who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II.
By acknowledging a heroic World War II unit by naming the football franchise that plays in our nation’s capital the Redtails, the former Washington Redskins could send a message to America’s Black communities and service members of any color: We honor the service and sacrifice of our sons and daughters in service, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or heritage.
It could attract new Americans to a great sport
In today’s social media-charged climate, everything is seen as a political statement; whether it’s watching football on a Sunday, buying beans at your local grocery store, or watching a musical on Disney+. As a guy that’s spent my entire adult life analyzing foreign policy and media manipulation, I find our love affair with waging war on one another troubling, so I try not to participate.
You may have political reasons you choose to skip football. You may have political reasons you choose to watch football. I just love football and prefer to leave the politics on Twitter.
I grew up in a fairly poor family, and we didn’t have the opportunity to do much of anything just because it was fun. Football, however, was always the exception. My dad and older brother both played football before me, and when it was my time to suit up, I reveled in the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. I loved playing football, complete with the broken bones and concussions I ended up with, for many of the same reasons I loved the Marine Corps. To me, my team was more important than I was, and playing well for my team was my chance at doing something that really mattered in my little slice of the world.
Related: Combat on the gridiron: This is playing football for the Marine Corps
Yup, football is a violent sport and you can get hurt (Lord knows I did), but you also get to experience the grueling exhaustion of overtime, the thrill of a hard-fought victory, and the stinging pain of failure. Football forced me to engage with and appreciate complex emotions at a young age, and made me a better man, and Marine, for it. Today, watching football spurs that part of my brain that remembers padding up to play ball from the peewee leagues to my back-to-back championship run in the Marine Corps… and I’m grateful for it.
For young Americans growing up in an increasingly chaotic world, a positive change like honoring the Tuskegee Airmen could be just the push they need to throw the game on one Sunday. For some small percentage of folks, that experience may mature into a love for the game that I hold so dear.
A new name that pays respect to a downtrodden American community, that honors military service and sacrifice, and can entice non-football watching Americans to give the sport I love a try? The Washington Redtails (or Red Tails) seems like a no-brainer to me.