How does a 61-year old American man, an actuary working from home in these pandemic times, find himself wedged in a notable moment in American sport? What does Martin McCaulay have that has had fans of the National Football League (NFL) team Washington Redskins ranting, raving, and betting; the American and world media chasing him; and which has made him take a week off from work just to handle the unexpected attention?
McCaulay has a bunch of names related to the team, over 40 registered trademarks that he owns rights to, which could potentially be the new name of the Washington football team. It’s been reported that the franchise has a name in their minds but they aren’t going official as trademark issues are pending and speculation from media and the fans is that the team could be eying one of the names owned by McCaulay, “Washington Red Wolves” in particular.
McCaulay says he isn’t an ordinary name squatter looking to make some quick money but is willing to give a name free to the team. “Just ask, I will give it away free. All I want in return is a charity to the natives Americans, in particular to the American Indian Graduate Center. That’s not asking much, is it?” McCaulay tells The Indian Express.
Before we hear more from him, from his home across the Potomac river in the city of Alexandria in the southeastern US state of Virginia, here is some context.
Washington Redskins, an NFL team in the US, had that controversial name for 87 years until they dropped it on July 13 this year. Since the 1970s, there have been protests, polls, and court cases to make the football team drop the word ‘Redskins’ as it was deemed offensive and racist to native Americans. The team owner Daniel Snyder, though, refused to budge.
But the Black Lives Matter movement, that reached a crescendo after the death of George Floyd, changed everything in a blink. Corporate sponsors such as FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo, and Bank of America started to revalue their association and though he hasn’t talked about the trigger, Snyder agreed to drop the name. But the dramatic change of heart from Snyder has thrown McCaulay into the thick of action.
“I have all the good names registered. Washington Red Wolves, the hot favourite with the fans who have been betting on it a lot, Washington Redtails, Washington Generals, Washington Americans, Washington Monuments, Washington Veterans, Washington Renegades and more,” McCaulay says. “My personal favourite that I registered five years ago was Washington Pandas but I guess the team is eyeing Red Wolves.”
The team has two months to find a new name before the season starts in September. “Forget my names, we know that they haven’t moved yet for any name as registering a new name is in the public domain. It’s really strange that they haven’t made any move yet,” McCaulay says. He isn’t even a fanatic of the team but a fan who has watched them since the 1980s. “I have seen only one game at the ground; last year, I watched it on the telly.”
McCaulay started to register names around the time the tussle over the name change reached its peak with the Supreme Court and even former US president Barack Obama getting into the act. In 2013, Snyder asserted that, “We will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use it in caps.” Not long after, Obama said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team – even if it had a storied history – that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said.
“I have been following the team since the 80s but it was around that time in 2013-14 that I seriously started to follow the controversy. I noted arguments from both sides and came down in favour of native Americans. It’s not just the name but the fans would go to the stadium with red paints on the faces and with feathers tucked in – that’s so racist.”
The first name he went for was a sort of a joke. “I chose Washington Pigskins. As a joke. The ball used to be made of pig leather, the team was called Skins by many.”
It wasn’t a cheap joke, though. It cost him $275 to register. “The real excitement came when the NFL replied! They said, ‘We note that you have registered the name and though it’s similar to our football team, we will allow it.’ I was so happy. That’s how the expensive hobby really started to kick in.” To make sure the name stayed registered and to show that he was serious, McCaulay even started selling merchandise based on his name. T-shirts, mugs, caps with Pigskins floated on a site he started, WashingtonAmericansFootball.com. He began to collect more names, make more merchandise though the effort to sell it (“It was the packing, the couriering that got to me”) tired him and he stopped after a while. All this though, cost him a lot of money, in thousands of dollars.
“One of my intentions was also to park the names in case the team decides to change and not let it fall in wrong hands. The team can always sue to get the name back but I figured it would take them a long time in the process. So, that was another motivation for me to continue doing what I did.” It all came to fruition on July 3 when McCaulay saw the announcement from the team that a name change was likely.
“It, of course, wasn’t motivated by the good. They saw that the corporations were questioning them. FedEx even wrote to them to drop the name. I was happy though when I saw finally better sense had prevailed.”
Next day, on July 4, McCaulay emailed the NFL team that they could have any name he owned for free. “I could see the fans were all betting and discussing new names; most were mine. So I wrote to them, take it if you want.”
No response, though. Instead, he copped a lot of abuse from fans on social media who thought he was hoarding names for money and trying to hold the team to ransom. “I was shocked. All the excitement I had initially went down a bit and now I had to clear my name.”
That meant more money. “I hired an attorney who charges $400 an hour to send an official notification to the team re-stating my free offer. ABC news showed my mail of July 4 that showed that I had offered it for free. And the attorney sent his stuff. People then believed it and began to come to my side – and question the team’s silence.”
On July 13, the team dropped ‘Redskins’. “It’s their move now. If they desire a name that I have, just go for it. I won’t stand in the way. Just contribute something to the charity. No catch, I really don’t want anything.”
His vacation to tackle viral attention ended on Tuesday. “I didn’t want to mix work and this. For the last week, I have been tweeting furiously, been on television and newspapers – which language are you going to write this? Ah! English, okay. I have seen this story now in Italian, Portuguese, German, French, and Spanish. It’s nuts. I had no idea that it would blow up like this. Just take a name, and let me return to my anonymous life.”
Only, if Washington chose one of his names, Martin McCaulay will never be anonymous.
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