So this preseason, I did a segment on Keith Olbermann's show where I discussed the fantasy value of a lot of NFL players, including some on Washington's team. The next day, a writer named Chris Lingebach wrote an article based on this appearance, discussing what I had said about Washington players for the CBS TV affiliate in Washington D.C.
And in introducing the story, he wrote: "ESPN's fantasy guru Matthew Berry -- an admitted Redskins fan, and noted name omitter -- . . . "
Wait, what? I'm a noted name omitter? There's a name for this? And I'm one of them?
Sure enough, a quick Google search of "Matthew Berry Redskins" shows I'm on a bunch of lists of people who don't use the name.
And now I don't know what to do.
I have been rooting for this team for four decades. Other than my immediate family, it's the longest relationship I have. I don't know how many years I have left on this earth -- I certainly hope it's a lot -- but I do know that I'll be a fan for every last one of them.
I moved around a lot as a kid. Born in Denver, I spent the majority of my time from about 6 months old until I was 12 in Virginia, first in Richmond and then, after a two-year stint in Atlanta, a bunch more years in Charlottesville. As the son of two parents who were huge sports fans, it's no surprise that I watched a lot of sports, and in Virginia, that meant the Washington Redskins.
Moving around a lot as a kid also made it tough to make friends, especially lasting ones, and it certainly didn't help me develop socially. Hell, I'm still socially awkward. But before girls, before friends, before the pressures of being a high school kid, of worrying about getting into college, of worrying about puberty, of dealing with social issues, I had my Redskins. Always.
Flash forward to the issue of Washington's football franchise becoming a national topic. In a lot of these "name omitter" articles or in feedback from fans, it's suggested that I feel social pressure, or that it's part of some liberal agenda, or that someone at ESPN addressed it with me. All of it untrue.
For many years I yelled "Hail to the Redskins" without a second thought. I have a ton of Redskins pictures, posters, jerseys, even mugs and magnets. If someone slapped a Washington logo on it, there's a very good chance that at some point I bought it or it was given to me as a gift. Seriously. Somewhere I have a roll of Redskins toilet paper. So I don't want to pretend I'm holier than thou. Because I'll admit this: The name doesn't bother me. Hearing it doesn't cause me angst or pain or dredge up any personal history. You know why? Because I'm not Native American.
But my thought, very simply, was that I just want to do the right thing. I don't want to cause pain to someone, and if hearing the name causes hurt, when all you want is some fantasy football info, I shouldn't use it. All I can control is me and if I can somehow help this issue, even in some small way, it's worth it.
In my Love/Hate column, I use the city, not the nickname, on first reference for all the football teams. I refer to the team as Washington on air, and on my podcast sometimes we refer to them as the Washington professional football franchise. But mostly what I tried to do is not make a big deal of it. It was a personal thing to me, for personal reasons.
And now I'm on lists and propped up as part of this fight and used as an example and that's the last thing I want. I wasn't trying to make some big public statement because it's not my statement to make. In fact, I find myself really conflicted.
The team name is "Washington Redskins." Love it or hate it, that is the actual name, per the National Football League. Who am I to change the name? I've told the story of why it's important to me that I be called Matthew, not Matt, Berry, so if I'm getting all bent out of shape about people changing my name, what right do I have to change something else's name?
There are many in the media who are publicly not using the name, but how many of them are actually fans of the team? This is personal to me. This is my team. My truest sports love. Like my parents, my brother, my wife and my kids, they occasionally drive me up a wall. They can frustrate, make me mad, disgusted, angry and sad. But they are also my family and I love them. Always have, always will and there's literally nothing I can do about it. It's in my blood.
The much larger issues of the NFL and domestic violence have pushed the name debate off the front pages, rightfully so, but with Washington hosting "Monday Night Football" tonight, I suspect the issue of the team's nickname will be brought up again. And it should be. It's an important issue and it's not going away.
I don't get a vote, but you know what I really want?
My desire is that this gets settled and settled soon. I don't like people disparaging my family, even if they have a point. I also don't like my family making anyone feeling insulted or humiliated or worse. I've read a bunch of studies, seen statements and articles from people supporting both sides of the issues and as far as I can tell, some people say it's offensive, some say it isn't. I hear from fans who say they are glad I don't use the name. I hear from fans who say I am not a real fan but rather a coward (and worse) for succumbing to peer pressure by not using the name. (On a side note, calling someone a name for not using a name sort of weakens your argument, you know?)
Personally, I'm totally fine with them changing the name. I'll root for them whatever they are called. I loved Olbermann's idea of keeping the logo the same and calling them the Washington Americans. Call them whatever you like. Doesn't matter to me. They are my team whatever they are called. And I believe they won't lose any true fans if they change the name -- while gaining a bunch more.
If owner Dan Snyder wants to keep the name, I am OK with that. I know a lot of people want to throw him under the bus, but I am not one of them. He did not name the team. This is not a black-and-white issue. There is no easy fix, and I can appreciate that there are complexities that I can't pretend to understand.
But here is what I would ask: that if the team is going to keep the name, there is an acknowledgement that the name does offend a group of people. That even if you don't think it's offensive, acknowledge that the name does offend a decent-size group of people. And something needs to be done to recognize and attend to their needs as well. There needs to be some compromise on the part of the team. There just does.
My suggestion? That if the name is kept, a percentage of all merchandise sales goes to helping Native American communities, scholarships, charities and more. And not some small token. Real money. In perpetuity.
I'm not Native American, so I can only make an assumption here, but from my point of view, many millions of dollars every year might make more of a difference for future generations of Native Americans than changing the name of one professional sports team in a country that has many, many teams at all levels featuring Native American-themed names and logos.
But even that is not the solution, I hope both sides stop fighting and start talking to one another. And leave me out of it.
Because I just want to talk about football. My football team.