It’s Time To Scalp The Washington Redskins’ Nickname
Every few years or so, it seems as though a protest arises regarding the Washington Redskins nickname.
This year, some heavy hitters are going on the warpath to change the name.
In May, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, and several others, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the other 31 NFL teams, urging a name change due to the harm and lowered self-esteem it causes among Native Americans, especially young people. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced proposed legislation revoking the name, three former FCC commissioners labeled the name as indecent, and D.C. City Councilor David Grosso is introducing a nonbinding resolution to change the name. There is also a pending lawsuit seeking to have the team lose its trademark protection. Earlier this year, the National Congress of American Indians issued a statement opposing the team nickname, stating, “It’s time for the NFL and the Washington football team to join the 21st century and leave the mockery and racism of the past where it belongs, in the past.”
Snyder is undaunted by these slings and arrows. He told USA Today, “We will never change the name of the team. As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means… We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
To many people, this issue seems like political correctness run amok. Recent polling shows that 79 percent of people don’t think the team should have to change its name.
There have been changes in college Indian nicknames and mascots. Stanford changed from Indians to Cardinals; Dartmouth changed from Indians to Big Green; UMass changed from RedMen to Minutemen; St. Bonaventure changed from Brown Indians to Bonnies; Marquette changed from Warriors to Golden Eagles; St. John’s changed from Redmen to Red Storm; The University of Illinois ended its use of its Indian Mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
Last year, the Oregon State Board of Education voted to prohibit public schools from using names, symbols, or mascots such as Redskins, Savages, Indians, Chiefs, or Braves.
It’s too soon to call these name changes a trend, but it’s encouraging to see.
Some traditions are worth keeping, but this isn’t one of them. The term Redskins is offensive and should be eliminated. Imagine the outrage if a team tried to call itself the Jersey Jews, New York Negroes, Cleveland Coloreds, Chattanooga Chinks or Houston Hispanics, and used cartoonish mascots such as a Rabbi dancing with Torah scrolls when the home team scored a touchdown. It would be outrageous and unacceptable.
America is a melting pot and multicultural diversity and sensitivity is necessary. Times change. Society evolves. It sends the wrong message to keep this disparaging and stereotypical symbol alive. Even if one accepts the premise that Indians were the ones who started using the term Redskins during the 1700s to distinguish themselves from white people, the term eventually evolved into a pejorative, hateful term. As Guy Gugliotta noted in his 2005 Washington Post article, “An 1871 novel spoke of “redskinned devils.” The Rocky Mountain News in 1890 described a war on the whites by “every greasy redskin.” The Denver Daily News the same year reported a rebellion by “the most treacherous red skins.”….Papers submitted in the case against the football team documented humiliating movie references by Hollywood icons Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and others. In “Northwest Passage,” Spencer Tracy, as a colonial explorer who hates Indians, importunes a subordinate to “Get a redskin for me, won’t you?”
It’s not just the name that is offensive, it’s the cartoonish manner in which the mascots and symbols are portrayed, such as Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians mascot, or the use of the Tomahawk Chop and war chant by fans of the Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles.
As the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated in a 2001 advisory opinion calling for an end to the use of Native American images and team names:
Indian-based symbols and team names are not accurate representations of Native Americans. Even those that purport to be positive are romantic stereotypes that give a distorted view of the past. These false portrayals prevent non-Native Americans from understanding the true historical and cultural experiences of American Indians. Sadly, they also encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary Indian people. These references may encourage interest in mythical “Indians” created by the dominant culture, but they block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans.
Many people deride political correctness when the issue doesn’t affect their group, but they claim outrage when it does offend the sensibilities of their own group.
The Indian team nicknames, especially Redskins, aren’t a badge of honor. They serve to continue the stereotypes of Indians as brutal, warlike savages. It’s time to scalp the Washington Redskins’ nickname.