By JARRETT BELL / USA Today
METAIRIE, La. – Count Champ Bailey amid the growing number of people who believe that it is time for Washington’s NFL franchise to change its controversial name.
The New Orleans Saints veteran cornerback, who broke into the NFL as Washington’s first-round pick in 1999, told USA TODAY Sports that the racial insensitivity of the word “Redskins” is reason enough for the team to make the bold move of changing the name.
“When you hear a Native American say that ‘Redskins’ is degrading, it’s almost like the N-word for a black person,” Bailey told USA TODAY Sports. “If they feel that way, then it’s not right. They are part of this country. It’s degrading to a certain race. Does it make sense to have the name?”
Bailey, a 16th-year veteran with 12 Pro Bowl selections on his resume, is one of the most prominent NFL players to take a stand on the polarizing issue.
It carries added weight when considering that he played his first five seasons in Washington after being selected seventh overall in 1999. He has a keen sense of the franchise’s tradition and its passionate fan base, but doesn’t buy the team’s reasoning for keeping a name defined in the dictionary as a racial slur. The team contends that the name honors Native Americans.
“I don’t know where the name came from or how it came about, but the bottom line is that it’s still here in this day and age, and it makes no sense to have it,” Bailey said. “I love that organization, but when it starts peeling off old scabs and people are pitching a fit about it because it’s degrading to them, then you’ve got to make a change.”
Asked if he could imagine an NFL team existing with a name for an African-American slur, Bailey said, “It would be out of here.”
Washington owner Dan Snyder, who bought the franchise just weeks after Bailey was drafted in 1999, has forcefully contended that he will never change the team’s name, despite mounting pressure from lawmakers, Native American activists and various civil rights groups.
“I get it, he doesn’t want to change it,” Bailey said of Snyder. “But he’s making it worse than it should be.”
In Bailey’s view, beyond denouncing the use of a slur, the football team would be wise to change its name for the practical manner of distancing itself from negative connotations.
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“They don’t represent anything that name stands for,” Bailey said, referring to the Washington franchise. “It’s a bad reflection of what they really stand for. It’s a bad name.”
By changing the name, Bailey added, “I don’t think much would change, as far as the branding and all of that. (The team) is still going to be beloved in that city. That’s just the way it is.”