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.
The change will come. It would be to the benefit of all if Snyder would accept, if not embrace, that change.
Other views on this topic:
“There is no reason to believe that owner Daniel Snyder, or any official or player from his team, harbors animus toward Native Americans or wishes to disrespect them. This is undoubtedly also true of the vast majority of those who don’t think twice about the longstanding moniker. And in fact, as best can be determined, even a majority of Native Americans say they are not offended.
But, having stipulated that, there’s still a distinction to be made. Objections to names like “Braves,” “Chiefs,” “Warriors,” and the like strike many of us as political correctness run amok. These nicknames honor, rather than demean... And names like “Blackhawks,” “Seminoles,” and “Chippewas,” while potentially more problematic, can still be okay provided the symbols are appropriately respectful – which is where the Cleveland Indians with the combination of their name and “Chief Wahoo” logo have sometimes run into trouble.
A number of teams, mostly in the college ranks, have changed their names in response to objections. The Stanford Cardinal and the Dartmouth Big Green were each once the Indians; the St. John’s Redmen have become the Red Storm, and the Miami of Ohio Redskins – that’s right, Redskins – are now the Red Hawks.
Still, the NFL franchise that represents the nation’s capital has maintained its name. But think for a moment about the term “Redskins,” and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or members of any other ethnic group.
When considered that way, “Redskins” can’t possibly honor a heritage, or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”
Bob Costas, NBC sports announcer
“There are literally a score of federal, state, county, municipal laws in effect that all prohibit the offensive R word, just like the N word, from being used in an environment where the public assembles.”
Alan Yelsey, activist
“It’s not a fist in the air type of situation. It’s just education, and to let you know that there are many of us, Native Americans, do not support that name at all.”
Richie Plass of the Menominee Nation in northeastern Wisconsin