Redskins' owner Dan Snyder needs to realize the word redskin has never had a meaning that wasn't derogatory
“What’s in a name? That which we would call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet may have thought that names are artificial and meaningless, but she didn’t have to deal with the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins name change.
Look up the definition of the word redskin in any dictionary and you’ll see it defined as Native American, then in italic print are the words, usually offensive and derogatory. Most people wouldn’t use such words in ordinary conversation because of their offensive nature, so why is it OK to name a sports team Redskins? When you think of good qualities football players have, what comes to mind? Fast, brave and tough probably come to mind. Others might add some ruthless qualities to the list, but all in good fun, right?
Is that where the trend started? You want your opponents to fear you as a team so you project ruthlessness in the form of Native American references? Warriors, Chiefs, Braves… all carry a mantle of bravery and fearlessness. Good qualities to have for a football team.
Or are they? In May, ten members of Congress wrote to Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insisting that the name redskins is derogatory. Even President Obama weighed in on the controversy, saying he would consider changing the name if he were the team’s owner. However, Snyder, the team’s owner, says he will never change the name.
Citing the team’s 81-year history, he said he respects the feelings of those who are offended by the name, but wants them to consider what the name means and the history behind it. Commissioner Goodell said at the NFL’s annual fall meeting that he didn’t consider the name derogatory, but “whenever you have a situation like this, you have to listen and recognize that some other people might have different perspectives.”
On Oct. 30, Oneida Indian Nation representatives met with NFL executives to discuss the Redskins name controversy. At the meeting, the NFL defended its use of the word on the basis of history, tradition and polling. The NFL claims that most people aren’t offended by the word redskins and cite an AP Poll taken in May that showed that 79% of respondents didn’t have a problem with the name. However, a new poll was released on Oct. 30 that showed that 59% of respondents said that the Native Americans had a right to be offended by the word redskin.
The Oneida Indian Nation presented a letter to NFL Commissioner Goodell at the meeting in which they outlined steps that they feel the NFL should take. Among them is a meeting with all 32 NFL owners during Super Bowl week, a visit to the Oneida tribal lands in Central New York by Snyder and Goodell, and an amendment to league bylaws prohibiting teams from using dictionary-defined racial slurs as team names. They also urged Goodell to impose sanctions on Snyder for using a slur detrimental to the league’s image. No decisions were made at the meeting regarding changing the name.
This past summer, I received notification from my alma mater that its sports teams were changing their logo from an Indian head to a sword, but would retain the nickname Warriors. In 2005, the NCAA has banned the use of Native American mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments. Nicknames deemed hostile or abusive would not be allowed on team uniforms. The college defended its continued use of the nickname because it is identified strongly with tradition, strength and honor.
So, if the NCAA is cracking down on the usage of derogatory names and images, why are they still allowed in professional sports? Yes, some Major League baseball teams have changed their logos to become less offensive, but what exactly is less offensive, anyway? Even if something is just a little bit offensive, it’s still offensive. The Redskin decision may ultimately be taken out of team owner Snyder’s hands. Several news outlets and sportscasters have already spoken out and said that they will refrain from using the word redskins as much as possible. Bob Costas has admitted that he has avoided using the word. The San Francisco Chronicle has stated that it will stop using the name Redskins, except in cases of reporting on the controversy surrounding the name.
I took an informal poll of my Facebook friends regarding the issue and I must say, opinions were pretty much evenly divided. Some were offended by the slur, others said that it didn’t bother them and that the name shouldn’t be changed. Some mentioned other Native American tribes like the Seminole who have officially supported the use of their tribal name by Florida St University in Tallahassee. However, there is a big difference between the meanings of the names Seminole and Redskin. One person asked how people would feel if the team name were the Washington Crackers.
The word redskin has never had a meaning that wasn’t derogatory. No one in their right mind would ever consider naming a team the Arizona Wetbacks or the Detroit Porch Monkeys, so why is redskins still used? It’s time to put an end to sanctioned racism. To those that say it’s about heritage and history, I say try again. I view this the same way I view flying the Confederate flag. You can call it heritage all you want, but the rest of the educated world sees it for what it really is: racism. Personally, I am part Kiowa and I think that my ancestors deserve a little more respect. Changing the names of sports teams seems painless enough and really isn’t all that much to ask.
Imagine if there were teams called the Detroit N*ggers or the El Paso Wetbacks? There would be an uproar. Redskins is no less offensive.
A sports-obsessed friend on Facebook told me that from 1901-1965 there was a minor league baseball team named the Atlanta Crackers, though it’s unclear where the name originated. Though, I think it’s safe to say it had nothing to do with the current pejorative use of the word cracker.