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The Tuskegee Airmen Are Mixed on Having an NFL Team Named After Them: 'I Am Not Sure They Are Worthy'

In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, Native American leaders protest against the Redskins team name outside U.S. Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis.
In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, Native American leaders protest against the Redskins team name outside U.S. Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis.
Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn (AP)

As someone who’s never had a professional football team named after them, I would imagine that it’d be quite the honor, but if you were to ask the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen the same thing, you might be surprised by their answers.

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Washington’s NFL team recently announced that they will be using a new name and logo moving forwardand that’s not due to any sense of altruism or seeing the error of their ways. It’s because corporate sponsors—namely FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and others—forced the team’s hand.

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So what is a billion-dollar NFL franchise suffering from an identity crisis to do? Get a new name, of course. And one possible name making the rounds, thanks in part to Washington’s franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins, is the Washington Red Tails. That name comes from the painted planes that the Tuskegee Airmen flew during World War II. But does Washington’s NFL team deserve such a distinction? Time Magazine went straight to the surviving Tuskegee pilots and got the answers.

“Absolutely,” Lt. Col. Harold Brown, 95, told Time. “Thinking about it sort of selfishly in terms of our own legacy, we are running out of pilots. Waiting a few years, that would be the end of us. I don’t know of a better way to keep that name alive than to put it on a name right behind ‘Washington.’”

There are only nine surviving Tuskegee pilots, so Brown’s concerns are warranted.

“It would be the most appropriate time to do it, in view of what’s going on in the country,” he added. “You know where my vote goes.”

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Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a non-profit organization that honors the accomplishments of Black veterans who served in and supported the Army Air Corps during WWII, released a statement expressing that they “would be honored and pleased to work with” Washington’s team “during and after the process should this name be adopted.”

But not everyone is on board with the idea, and understandably so.

“I am not sure they are worthy of the Red Tail name,” Lt. Col. James Harvey, 97, told Time. “They don’t win that many games plus a lot of the players have a […] poor attitude. But, it is not my call. Just the way I feel at this point in time.”

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Other names in the running include the Lincolns, Presidents, Redhawks, Warriors and Generals, but the Red Tails is easily the most alluring—and popular. Twitter has been buzzing since Washington announced its intention to change its name and logo and a poll conducted by Yahoo Sports revealed that of 92,000 voters, Red Tails was the resounding favorite.

A decision on the name is expected to come soon. And while I’m in favor of the team becoming the Washington Red Tails, the rich history of the Tuskegee Airmen should be honored and the change shouldn’t solely be a means to atone for Washington’s previous name.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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DISCUSSION

Justsomerandoontheinternet

I have no skin in this game, but I would think if you’re going to name a team after actual people that are still living, you need to respect the shit out of their position on the matter.  Otherwise it’s an empty gesture, and likely exploitative.