— -- Working as a journalist in Washington for parts of the past two decades always created an internal dilemma: Was I really just chronicling a football team, or was I peripherally participating in the continued disparagement of America's indigenous people? Even when I hid behind "professional duty," I always knew the answer.
When former referee Mike Carey revealed a year ago that the NFL honored his request not to work Washington's games the final eight years of his career, explaining, "It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me," I felt a strong kinship.
So, with no pressing work obligation at FedEx Field this year, I didn't go to the opener. I didn't go Sunday, either.
I missed nothing.
Oh, Washington finally earned something other than an insult from another analyst on a pregame show, physically emasculating the St. Louis Rams. And all across the overcast and drizzly region of the District, Maryland and Virginia on Monday, light figuratively cascaded down from the heavens, glistening off the burgundy-and-gold legions. With Tony Romo out for two months and the Eagles and Giants reeling at 0-2, delusions of an NFC East title danced in their hope-deprived skulls.
By and large, they're good fans; they deserve a reprieve from the clown show. Poor saps. They've yet to realize: shocking run to the postseason or 3-13 again, they cannot win.
Because after all the RGIII clickbait, the drama-a-day commode fires, after all the zaniness of the organization refusing to get out of its own way, the brand has been irrevocably tarnished.
It actually took professionally stepping outside the Washington bubble for the first time in a decade to fully grasp we've now come to a place we haven't been before.
In late June, the Washington Post ran a 16-question quiz, asking readers whether they could differentiate between statements made defending the Confederate flag and the name of Washington's NFL team. The exercise showed how the two were essentially interchangeable.
In early July, a federal judge upheld the stripping of the team's federal trademark protection on the basis of the moniker being offensive to Native Americans.
California, the most populous state in the nation and home to three NFL franchises, passed legislation this month ensuring no public school will ever call itself what Washington's NFL team calls itself.
In Madison, Wisconsin, historically a liberal town but practically middle America, kids can't even wear clothing to school with Native-themed teams on it. Imagine being the parent of an Indians or Braves fan and your child comes home to give you the lecture about a living people not being mascots.
Several dead-broke Native American tribes and organizations now won't even take Dan Snyder's money because they don't believe the owner's Original Americans Foundation is charitable; they know it's a sham geared toward actually promoting the team's name in Indian country and beyond.
The latest was the Indian National Rodeo Finals, which like many poor tribal organizations struggled mightily with what Snyder essentially asked them to choose between: cultural identity or financial need.
A year ago, it chose money, accepting $200,000 and plastering Washington team placards all over Las Vegas for its championship event. A year later, tugged like a wishbone by its people and feeling like a pawn, the Indian National Rodeo Finals publicly rebuked the team in a letter:
"After much soul searching, we have decided that we cannot in good conscience accept resources from you on the terms you have offered, no matter how desperately we need it," Bo Vocu, the organization's vice president, wrote. "That is because, as you know, the resources you are offering are not truly philanthropic -- they come with the expectation that we will support the racial slur that continues to promote your associated professional football team's name."
Think on that for a moment. The name has become so radioactive to many Native Americans that people desperately in need of resources are running away from a billionaire's money. Because of Snyder's insistence he will "never" change the name, parts of Indian country have essentially started their own Don'tFundMe campaigns.
I've bristled over the years that the issue seemed to be on an island by itself. But this is no longer merely a civil rights/social justice issue affecting our most marginalized ethnicity. Many people now have made the obvious leap that this issue impacts people of color.
Now part of the zeitgeist, it's impossible to get away from it.
From "Late Night With Seth Meyers" last month: "President Obama has announced plans to rename Mt. McKinley 'Denali' after its original Native American name. Because it turns out it's easier to rename a mountain than a football team."
From "South Park" pillorying the owner for an entire episode to built-in monologue jokes, Snyder's Last Stand is now regular late-night fodder. People now automatically make the association, whereas five, 10 years ago the issue bubbled up only to simmer back down.
Brought on by social unrest elsewhere, by so many issues breaking down along racial lines, a new era of consciousness has evolved -- one that helps people make an immediate leap to Washington's name as a symptom of the same problem. Though not always to the same degree, most rational-thinking people see the relation.
Look, the NFL has become a clearinghouse where we now debate some of our most pressing national issues. Racial slurs. Legal ethics. Economic fairness. Workplace integrity. Domestic violence. Public health. Roger Goodell's tone-deaf league is at the center of it all, one of the main entry points for discussion.
Between a raised racial awareness societally and the platform of mammoth cultural force like the NFL, the convergence of both has forever fundamentally changed the debate about the name.
More so than any other time in history, momentum has grown for change.
And most of the pressure for change is happening beyond the protective cocoon of team headquarters in Virginia. Similar to the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King's strategy relied more on a grassroots movement and local action before any march on Washington, the power of using the name is eroding in small towns like Lancaster, New York, and Goshen, Indiana, in school districts like Houston's, which last year passed a law forbidding the use of Native American mascots, and states like California and Wisconsin.
Snyder has never been more isolated. He can point to whatever poll he wants. Movement on the issue is evidenced by high schools in double-digit numbers changing their names in just the past two years.
That's not a top-down strategy. The issue has evolved organically.
For the first time in a long time, a sense of optimism has emerged that it's really only a matter of time.
So whether coach Jay Gruden knows what he's doing, whether his team musters five wins or shockingly waltzes to 13, that's not what will determine a good season in Washington.
My only advice for Snyder and his dyed-in-the-past loyalists: Change is certain. Growth is optional.