Another Vote For “The Washington Code Talkers”

The Washington Redskins ownership finally was forced to capitulate in the decades long- battle to force a beloved and fanatically supported NFL team to ditch the name that fans were beloving on the dubious theory, rejected by most native Americans and people capable of  critical thought, that despite all outside appearances having a team carrying a  Native American name dishonors Indians rather than keeps their story up front and vital in American consciousness and culture. Because the decision was a sudden biproduct of the George Floyd Freakout, the D.C. team wasn’t prepared for a change, and had no names in reserve. (It apparently had a shot at the name “Warriors,” which alliterates at least, but was late moving on the copyright and trademarks, so that name has, as they say, left the wigwam.

Meanwhile, gag names are flying around like arrows at the Little Big Horn, so ending the mockery is urgent. We are hearing calls for the Washington Weasels, the Washington Swamp-Dwellers, the Washington Investigators, the Washington Slime, The Washington Bootlickers…even the retro “Washington Murderous Savages.”  (I was an early advocate for “The Washington Concussions.”) However, one serious suggestion offered by the President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez is brilliant: the Washington Code Talkers.

I second, with enthusiasm.

Few professional sports team have nicknames carrying any historical significance. Most are generic animals, birds, even reptiles. Some of the oldest names are meaningless, like “Red Sox.” Just a few refer to or referenced history: the now defunct Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and a few others. One great virtue of the Code Talkers, in addition to keeping the Native American connection to the D.C. team, is that it would compel the team’s fans to learn some history for a change. (I assume that the 2002 Nicholas Cage bomb, “Windtalkers,” did not have sufficient reach to educate most Americans.)

Who, or what,  were the Code Talkers?

During World War I, Choctaw and other American Indian recruits in the U.S. army in Europe transmitted battle messages by telephone in their tribal languages. As World War II loomed, some in the armed services recalled the usefulness of this tactic.

Beginning in 1940, the U.S. army recruited Comanches, Choctaws, Hopis, Cherokees, and others to transmit messages. In 1942, Philip Johnston,a World War I veteran and  a civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles,  proposed to the United States Marine Corps that the use of the Navajo language would be valuable in ensuring communications secrecy. Johnston had been raised on a Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary, and spoke the tribe’s language fluently. He arranged  a demonstration using the Navajo language that so impressed the Marines that they quickly recruited 29 Navajos for the special coding project. Ultimately, there were Code Talkers from at least 16 tribes who served in the Army, the Marines, or the Navy.

Many Native American Code Talkers in World War II used their everyday tribal languages to convey messages, a method that became known as Type Two Coding. Type One Codes, in contrast, used the languages as the basis for coded English. For the Marines, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers assigned a Navajo word to each letter of the English alphabet; Comanches, Hopis, and Meskwakis, did the same in the other services to create codes based on their languages. In the Navaho Type Two Code, for example, the Navaho word moasi, meaning  cat, stood for the letter C.

The Navajos, Comanches, Hopis, and others also  matched their words to military terms for types of planes, ships, or weapons. In the Navaho code, atsá, meaning eagle, designated “transport plane.” The Hopi code used paaki–houses on water—to mean ships. Comanches called tanks wakaree´—Comanche for “turtle.”

The Marine Corps established a Code Talking school that eventually trained more than 400 Navajos  in communications and committing the Navaho code to memory.  Code Talkers  had to master both wire and radio equipment, often  carrying it on their backs. In the field they were given messages in English, and without writing them down,  translated and sent them to the next Code Talker, until the message was written down in English and entered into a message logbook.

The Navajo and Hopi were assigned to service in the Pacific; the Comanches fought the Germans in Europe, and the Meskwakis Code Talker were assigned to North Africa. Code Talkers from other tribes participated in combat operations in  various locations.

At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, a 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. They sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. Connor later said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

For the Ex-Redskins to adopt the nickname “Code Talkers” would be a wonderful tribute to Native Americans as well as veterans and the Greatest Generation. It would make the team a living messenger of history, and the name would be original and unique in the world of sports.

Oh, I’m certain activists of some kind will figure out a way to argue that the name is racist, for this why we can’t have nice things. But that’s a given whatever name is finally adopted.

I vote for the Washington Code Talkers.

23 thoughts on “Another Vote For “The Washington Code Talkers”

  1. yes, but no.

    I vote for no nickname, no mascot, no nothing.


    Impractical and unprofitable, but, if the NFL wants to bitch, fuck them. They had the clout to stick it to Nike and FedEx and say, you have a problem with us, we will start using Adidas and DHL and we will give them a better deal for the whole NFL; no nike or FEDEX ads on any of our programming. Now, butt the hell out.

    They should have backed him up, and they didn’t. Even if it was a bad name (which I don’t concede).

    So, if Snyder is as big a jerk as he seems to be, he should draw a hard line with the NFL and drop the nickname, end of story. Then, he should move out of DC (if he has any control over that).

    He should throw as big a tantrum as he can.

    He could change the name every year. If the NFL wants to fight over names, stick it to them. Every year, a new name, a new logo, new merchandise, and he could still sell Redskins merchandise; he owns the name (that asshole in Dallas is probably still raking it by selling North Stars jerseys).


    • Appropriation, or they will point out (from what I heard) that the people guarding the code-talkers were ordered to kill them instead of allowing them to be captured. From there, they can easily be degraded to tools whose lives did not matter. They were only valuable for their exotic language.

  2. As long as it’s not a baseball team (cough *Astros* cough). The Code Talkers is one of the greatest stories that’s consistently gets overlooked. I’d vote for it.

  3. I think it is appropriate given that I keep hearing that politicians use dog whistle terms or talk in language that only followers understand.

    Code talkers would be a noble name but I don’t think this football team in this area is worthy of such a name.

  4. Two points of note:

    1. I posted the link to this post on Facebook, and it posted correctly, but ON FACEBOOK, the link took readers to this post!:

    How could that happen?

    2. An old friend, a Georgetown professor, responded to my endorsement of “Code Talkers” with this:

    “You’re still in favor of a name which, while not offensive of the surface thereof, still involves appropriation of indigenous cultural accomplishments?”

    He really did. He really did.

    I am morose.

    • Is it that you are not supposed to respect and honor something that doesn’t match your tribe? I don’t get that fear of ‘appropriation’ as things appropriated are typically harmless, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Can they see nothing but hate of race/sex/gender/religion/culture?

    • Jack,

      I thought that whole cultural appropriation thing was the reason to cancel the team mascots under fire. If you aren’t Native American, you can’t make any reference to Native Americans. Even if a Native American suggested it and/or endorsed it. I like the name, but the perpetually offended will follow the reasoning your Georgetown Professor friend did. The funny thing is that the loudest protestors will be white people “defending” the Native Americans from cultural appropriation…

  5. Interesting idea. Many years ago, I worked with Peter McDonald, a Navajo Code Talker, and at that time Chairman of the Navajo Nation. This was before his unfortunate situation involving a few legal infractions. He was a very impressive man who could keep one foot in the Navajo world and the other foot elsewhere. I also met a few other living Code Talkers at that time. They were all considered local heroes in Window Rock and around the Four Corners region of the Navajo Nation. Few Americans today know much about this important history.

  6. Code Talkers is a good suggestion. So is Red Tails, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.

    But honestly, there are so many simple and reasonable, yet positive and powerful, possible alternatives to Redskins, it makes me wish that there could be some “crowdsourcing” way to conclude on a new team name. Maybe something like the balloting for MLB all-stars, but more wide-open. Following are just a few possible new names that burst out of my puny mind. Let the mass-brainstorming begin, and the popularity contest play out:

    United, Elect, Strong, Potomacs, Potawomecks, Excelsiors, XX (short for “Execs” as in Executives)…it’s a wide, wild world of words out there…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.