Like an argument around the family dinner table, it's a national debate that seems to never end: Is it fair, nice, intolerant, insulting, or irrelevant to continue to use American Indian names in our sports teams?. Or worse are we all racists because in 2014 we live with the reality of names like "Redskins" or "Braves" as a part of everyday life?
Nowhere is this issue more passionately discussed than in my hometown of Washington, D.C., where our NFL team serves as either (pick your side) an affront to progressive ideals or – if they decide to change the name – pandering to political correctness. Even Redskins owner Dan Snyder's attempt to create his Original Americans Foundation is not solving anything, and is likely making more of a mess.
I say: Stop it. It's time to recast the debate. Time for this family feud to morph into something more beneficial to all.
Yes, I understand the concerns of both sides. Opponents to changing team names, including the high schools, universities, and owners of these beloved sports franchises, not to mention loyal fans, argue that a tradition will be compromised, that attendance at games will plummet, viewership will decrease, and there will be a significant increase in costs associated with rebranding.
But in the end, think about what most rational Americans would say: Where's the money?
I'm not talking about "economics," as in boycotting the games or having the TV networks exact financial pressure on teams. American Indian tribes and political activists have had minimal impact with these efforts. But there is an unexamined argument — and that is the money that can be made through the increased value in sports memorabilia.
When changing the name of a major entity, like a sports franchise, there is a considerable amount of money to be earned not just from increased advertising, but amongst loyal fans who collect, buy and sell sports memorabilia. Through online and storefront retail operations, sports memorabilia has become a billion dollar industry. Once the old jerseys and other paraphernalia bearing the names and images taken from American Indians are retired, they will become collectors' items. Their value will climb, regardless of whether they are deemed offensive. It's not outrageous to believe that someday an old Redskins jersey will be highly prized simply because that name was so controversial to so many. That's a place where psychology and capitalism cross paths, and make perfect sense.
I urge not only this economic power base to be more vocal in the ongoing cultural battle, but also the manufacturers of sports paraphernalia who stand to gain. Over the long haul, the owners of teams will be retiring the old sports merchandise for the new. Not only will fans want to buy up the old jackets, mugs and whatever else is out there, but many will stand in line to purchase the new items. Team loyalty is practically priceless, so whatever economic hit these franchises take, recovery is just around the corner.
Built-in obsolescence is something we've come to expect as a key component of American free enterprise. There is value in turning in the old and adopting the new. The debate over team names is no different. Let's dial down the rhetorical heat, and fire up the assembly lines.
And go … Washington football team, whatever name you bear in the future!
Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D. is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore. His most recent book is American Indians at Risk (ABC-CLIO, 2013).