News & Politics

Redskins Honor World War II-Era Navajo Code Talkers, Awkwardness Ensues

No one was fooled by the team’s publicity stunt.

In a publicity stunt more awkward than the Redskins’ failure to convert on fourth-and-two, the team showed a video during halftime of last night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers honoring four World War II veterans who served as Navajo “code talkers.”

The FedEx Field crowd cheered, and rightly so—Native American members of the military played a crucial role in formulating coded messages during the war. But nobody was fooled: the gesture comes after months of controversy over the home team’s name.

The veterans were trotted out to the sidelines wearing team merchandise as the stadium’s video screen filled with a recollection of the code talkers’ wartime achievements. The video also included footage of President Obama, who has said that if he had Dan Snyder’s job, he’d strongly consider changing the team’s name, and it ended with one of the veterans sheepishly saying, “Hail to the Redskins.”

Hey, it’s great that anyone, much less an NFL team, is honoring the service of people whose communications skills were critical in the United States winning the Battle of Iwo Jima. The NFL has been doing military tributes for several weeks, and November is Native American Heritage Month, so a night marking the accomplishments of Navajo code talkers makes fine sense. But the team that hosted them is still called “Redskins.”

Of course, in true Snyder fashion, if you really want to honor the code talkers, the team is more than happy to sell this T-shirt featuring a slick, futuristic inscription of the team’s name. It’s for kids.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.