Time for a change in Washington

Daniel Snyder will not do the right thing, no matter how obvious the decision would appear to be.

The right thing would be for Snyder to change the name of the NFL franchise he has owned since 1999. The right thing would be to acknowledge that Native Americans find the term offensive, derogatory and demeaning, and have for decades. The right thing would be to invest the money and the manpower into rebranding a franchise that is one of the most popular in all of sports -- not just in the NFL -- and certainly could survive a name change and continue to thrive.

Start today. Make the announcement that at some point in the future, whether the process takes two years or five, the NFL franchise in Washington will change its name. Have a contest. Solicit fan suggestions for the new name. Do market research.

But make the change. Life will go on. The franchise will continue to grow. The brand will evolve. The part of the fan base that is against it eventually will understand.

What if the name of Washington's franchise were a slur against African-Americans? Changing the name would be a no-brainer. There would be no discussion.

To Native Americans, the current team name is just as hurtful, just as insulting, and just as unacceptable.

Changing the name is such a simple decision when stripped down to the core issue. What is morally right? In 2013, discrimination of any kind is not tolerated. The current name is racist. It can no longer represent a franchise that, according to a 2012 Forbes valuation, is worth $1.6 billion and is part of this nation's most popular sports league.

Snyder should listen to those in Congress who sent him a letter this week urging him to change the franchise's name. He should read what the chief of the Penobscot Nation, Kirk Francis, said about the name, how it is a "reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of … ethnic cleansing ever committed against the Penobscot people." He should see the list of 28 Native American organizations supporting H.R. 1278, a bill introduced on March 20 that would cancel the federal registrations of trademarks using the word "redskin" in reference to Native Americans, and realize it is time for change.

But Snyder won't. He is too stubborn. He has a reputation as a bully who doesn't want to be bullied, not by Congress or Washington council members or the city's mayor. Snyder wants to be in control. He likes the name and the brand and won't be pushed into doing what is morally and ethically right.

"We'll never change the name," Snyder told USA Today earlier this month. "It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."

The team declined to comment when I reached out for a response.

Snyder could not even provide a safe playing field for his rookie franchise quarterback to compete on in the playoffs last season, so there's no reason to think that he will do what is right regarding his team's name.

It is not that hard.

But it is a touchy subject. One prominent former player who won a Super Bowl with the franchise in the 1980s said he wouldn't "touch it."

"That's too sensitive of a subject," he said. "I'll let the politicians and the owner handle that. I don't want any part of it."

Professional sports teams have changed names before. In 1996, Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin announced that, starting with the 1997-98 season, the team would be known as the Wizards. Pollin thought that, given the gun violence at the time in Washington, the nickname was inappropriate.

Tom Benson, the new owner of the NBA franchise in New Orleans, has changed the name from the Hornets to the Pelicans. And this month, Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA franchise in Charlotte, announced that the team would scrap Bobcats and return to its original nickname, the Hornets.

That move is expected to cost the franchise $4 million and go into effect with the 2014-15 season.

Even if the expense to Snyder would be 10 times that, it would be worth it. Snyder would be hailed as a champion of change. Sure, there would be blowback initially from lifelong fans of the team and the name, but ultimately, Snyder would be remembered as a man who stood up to discrimination and, despite the financial risk, did what was right.

Snyder is widely regarded as a shrewd businessman who has been creative -- and wildly successful -- in generating revenue streams to grow his business. But until hiring Bruce Allen as general manager and Mike Shanahan as head coach, Snyder had been inconsistent and irrational with his football decisions. He is on his seventh head coach, counting Terry Robiskie, who took over after Snyder fired Norv Turner late in the 2000 season. Snyder's teams have won just two division titles, in 1999 and in 2012, and have a combined 101-123 regular-season record with just four winning seasons and two playoff wins.

The franchise is finally on the right track with Shanahan and has a winner in Robert Griffin III. This will be Shanahan's fourth season and should be his best team. Finally, Washington is in position to be able to compete for championships.

There would be no better way of ushering in a new era of Washington football than by doing it under a new brand and new name. It is long overdue, if only Snyder would do what is right.