Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, has resisted for years the recurring calls for the NFL team to change its racially derogatory name. He would do well to reverse his stance.
The issue of Indian-derived names is a familiar one in Minnesota, where most high schools with native-themed nicknames have been forced to rename their teams. (Thus, to cite just one local example, the St. Clair teams are now the “Cyclones”.) In 1995, the state Legislature renamed 19 “Squaw Lakes” on the basis that “squaw” is a coarse word for the female sex organ (although a small municipality in Itasca County still clings to the name).
The debates that lead to such name changes are often emotionally charged, with adherents of the accustomed name clinging to tradition and opponents claiming deep insult. Often it seems the two sides simply refuse to understand the other’s point of view.
Sensibilities and standards change with time, generally for the better. The racial attitudes espoused by many prominent elected officials 40 years ago would be roundly rejected today. That a name or term was acceptable decades ago does not mean it deserves the same status today.
Not all Indian names are by definition insulting, but often the images that accompany the name are. Consider, for example, the Cleveland Indians baseball team. The name itself is benign compared to the “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racial caricature. The primary defense for Chief Wahoo is that it’s been part of the team imagery since the 1940s.
That echoes Snyder’s defense of the Redskins name. He has been a fan of the team from childhood; he feels an emotional connection to the name as a result that, for him, transcends the slur.
But there is ultimately no real way around it: “Redskin” is an obvious racial slur, and Snyder does his reputation no good by denying it. The issue is not going away; the opponents will always be vocal, and while polling shows a popular support for the nickname, that support will inevitably dwindle.