What is a Red Tail? Washington Renaming Could Honor WW2 Tuskegee Airmen

Monday will be a watershed moment in the history of the Washington Redskins, with the reference to Native Americans set to be officially dropped for the first time since the franchise was founded 87 years ago.

In 2013, Washington owner Dan Snyder vowed to never change the franchise name, which had for decades been a source of debate and controversy. Snyder, however, has had to backtrack on his claim after some of the team's major sponsors spoke out on the issue early this month.

Two weeks ago FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Redskins' home stadium, formally requested the team to change its name. The move came after three separate letters signed by 87 investment firms and shareholders worth a combined $620 billion directly asked FedEx, Nike and Pepsi to terminate their relationship with the franchise unless the Redskins agreed to change their name.

"This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field," Snyder said on July 3.

From Presidents to Capitols and from Warriors to Senators, several candidates have been put forward as potential replacements, although it is worth noting the franchise will not announce a replacement on Monday because of trademark reasons.

Among the plethora of possible replacements, Red Tails has emerged as arguably the most popular suggestion and a 3/1 favorite with the bookmakers.

The name was first proposed by a Reddit user a couple of weeks ago and celebrates the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-American and Caribbean-born black military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces.

During World War II, parts of the American military remained racially segregated as black Americans in a number of U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws—which were enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were enforced until 1965 and effectively mandated racial segregation in public facilities.

The Red Tails formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Force and owe their nickname to the color that pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted on the tails of their Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft.

The instantly recognizable markings included red bands on the noses of P-51 Mustang fighters, which also featured a red rudder, while P-51B and D Mustangs sported red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and red tails.

Red Tails served as the title to Anthony Hemingway's 2012 movie featuring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., which told the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The benefits of replacing Redskins with Red Tails would be three-fold. First and foremost, the franchise would part ways with a moniker that has caused controversy in favor of a nickname paying tribute to Black military personnel which would send a strong message in the current climate.

Secondly, it would be a nod to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen, a requirement that has been highlighted by both Snyder and franchise coach Ron Rivera. Last, but by no means least, it would allow the franchise to retain its traditional red and gold color scheme.

However, the Red Tail monicker could present a challenge from a trademark standpoint.

According to a piece written by Heitner Legal founder Darren Heitner and recently published on legal news website Above the Law, two men who live in the Washington area in February "jointly filed an application to register the 'Washington Redtails' trademark in association with the licensing of intellectual property rights."

The name was published for opposition on June 23, meaning any interested party has 30 days to oppose the trademark.

"It would cause a bump in the road in terms of trying to apply and register for a name if [Snyder] falls in love with [Redtails]," Heitner was quoted as saying by ESPN.

Washington Redskins, NFL
A general view of the Washington Redskins logo at center field before a game between the Detroit Lions and Redskins at FedExField on November 24, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. Patrick McDermott/Getty