Given that the President of the United States lives in Washington, D.C., debates, protests and discussions are always swirling around the D.C. metro area. Surprisingly enough though, the current hot debate in D.C. is not coming from Capitol Hill. Instead, a long-standing dispute about the Washington “Redskins” name has been thrust to the front of mainstream media. Highlighted by a symposium held at the National Museum of the American Indian on Thursday, February 7, 2013 it is finally time to hit the name change issue head on.
Understanding and Legitimizing the Issue
For over 20 years, many American Indians have complained that the “Redskins” name is racist. According to an expert curator for the Smithsonian Institution named Ives Goddard, the term “Redskin” may have not begun as a derogatory term. But on the flip side, American Indian activist and lead plaintiff in the case against the Washington Redskins organization Suzan Shown Harjo staunchly believes that the unquestioned origins of the term “Redskin” come from the “practice of presenting bloody red skins and scalps as proof of Indian kill for bounty payments.”
Regardless of where you stand on the origins debate, most people can agree that in todays world, the term “Redskin” is insensitive and derogatory to say the least. As Hogs Haven writer Kevin Ewoldt said in an article earlier this week, if Washington, D.C. was just awarded an NFL team and “Redskins” was the leading option for team name, there would be outrage.
How the Braves became Redskins
In 1933, George Preston Marshall changed his team’s name from the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins. Yes, the same George Preston Marshall who was the last one on the integration train and known for being the leading racist in the NFL for over 20 years. The franchise name was supposedly changed to honor then coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Dietz, who claimed to be part-Sioux, is the basis behind the organization’s argument that “Redskins” is an honor for American Indians.
Dietz’ claim to being part-Sioux has been seriously questioned and could have possibly been made up, which makes holding on to the “Redskins” name for his sake even worse. Regardless if Dietz was actually part-Sioux, it is hard to get people to celebrate a name bestowed on the Washington football team by a known racist like George Marshall.
The first step would be to get the Washington football organization to acknowledge that the name “Redskins” is offensive. Organizers for this past Thursday’s symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian said that the Redskins organization did not even respond to an invitation to take part in the discussion. To make matters worse, no one stood up to defend the Redskins name when the audience was invited to participate.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said in the past that the team name will never be changed because what the name means “is tradition, what it means is competitiveness, and what it means is honor.” Snyder does not want to acknowledge that the nation’s two leading Indian organizations, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Education Association have openly condemned the “Redskins” name. The question is, if the name offends the same people you are claiming to be honoring, then why keep it? Forbes Magazine lists the Redskins as the fourth most richest sports franchise in the world. Not just the NFL, but the world. So one must wonder if perhaps money is behind the desire to keep the Washington team name the same.
I suppose if the team were named the “Washington Penny Pinchers” to “honor” Jewish people’s supposed reluctance to spend money unnecessarily, Snyder would see the problem, right? Isn’t Snyder the same guy who sued the Washington City Paper for featuring an anti-Semitic depiction of him? He seems to understand derogatory names and depictions when it’s pertinent to him.
Lastly, and probably most improbably, is getting current or even past players to publicly denounce the team name. As a current player It may be hard to go against your teammates or team owner for that matter, but if one person stands up in favor of a change, there is no telling how many folks will follow. At the end of the day, the players are the ones we root for, so seeing them spark the change would be great.
Do you believe Washington should change their name?
If they don’t, will you still root for them?