Ripping the Band-Aid Off: It's Time to Change the Washington Redskins Name

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Ripping the Band-Aid Off: It's Time to Change the Washington Redskins Name
Al Bello/Getty Images

Recently, an old battle flared up in Washington. Not one about taxes, austerity or giving a random gold medal to Arnold Palmer. We are weighing the merits of the Redskins name for Washington's hallowed football team.

The term "redskin" is derogatory. It is a racial slur referring to Native Americans and was even deemed such by the Smithsonian, according to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). The question is whether that is relevant to you or the rest of America. It should be.

This time, the fight feels bigger, as though there is a shot Washington will change the name. Dan Snyder is an egregiously stubborn man, but he might not be able to swat challengers away forever. Public support for the Redskins name is waning, and pressure to change it is mounting.

Adlai Stevenson once said, "Ignorance is stubborn and prejudice is hard."

The tide is turning. Adjust accordingly.

According to Merriam-Webster, a fanatic is "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." That last part is particularly relevant here. 

To all the Redskins fans out there, step out of your fandom for a moment. It is leading you astray in this matter. Your empathic abilities have been short-circuited by your uncritical devotion.

How else can we explain tone-deaf defenses of the moniker, like this one by Sean Patterson on Hogs Haven?

Many of these articles argue the same points; George Preston Marshall was a racist, the name offends people, and that a new team name is needed. While all these articles address the issue, they all fail to analyze the issue from one important point of view: the fan.

Really? We are forgetting the fan in all this petty talk of racism? Perhaps Washington fans can vent their anger and sadness while they walk the historic Trail of Tears.

There is no lack of understanding here, though. Changing your team's identity and losing that connection to a legacy would hurt. A desire to hold on to that identity and legacy would be strong with fans.

But how much more hurtful is the team's name? 

Close your eyes and breathe. Now imagine those whom this slur affects. Really, get into their shoes. Does your sense of team loyalty trump that feeling?

Recently, Grantland's Dave Zirin penned a fine open letter to Dan Snyder, imploring him to change the team's name:

You, however, have not commented on the devastating letter from 10 members of Congress this month, including Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole of the Chickasaw Nation, who said that the name was similar to having a team called "the Washington N-words" and that it "diminishes feelings of community and worth among the Native American tribes."

It is well documented that the original owner of the team, George Preston Marshall, was a notorious bigot. Washington was the last team to integrate, and it only happened because the federal government strong-armed Marshall into signing the team's first black player after RFK Stadium was built with federal funds on federal land.

We don't know if Marshall chose the Redskins name because he wanted to poke fun or worse at an ethnic group—the team was named the Braves before the change—but it is no large leap in logic to assume he gave no thought to the insensitivity of his choice, at the very least.

Roger Goodell has tried to paint Washington's team name in a positive light, calling it a "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect." Either Goodell is as tone-deaf as a misguided American Idol contestant, or he is simply protecting the shield.

There is nothing unifying, courageous, prideful or respectful about the term "redskin," as ESPN's Bomani Jones points out:

It really is quite simple.

A slur is a slur, regardless of relevance. That is embedded in our culture as an acceptable thing does not change the fact that it is offensive. It might not carry the weight or stigma that other slurs bear, but that hardly matters.

There is a litany of unmentionable derogatory terms for ethnic groups, none of which a sane person would dare name a team after in today's day and age.

But does that excuse its usage?

CFL hopeful and Cheyenne tribe member Levi Horn recently said, "Just because racism is normalized to us it doesn't make it right."

And there is the rub. If Washington was a brand new franchise, would "redskin" even be in consideration? 

According to an AP poll (h/t CBSSports.com), 79 percent of 1,004 adults polled were in favor of keeping the name. That is astounding, but the number is down 10 percentage points from 20 years ago. Per CBSSports.com:

One of the poll-takers who was in favor of the Redskins keeping their nickname, cited tradition, "That's who they've been forever. That's who they're known as," said one respondent from Osceola, Ind. "I think we as a people make race out to be a bigger issue than it is."

So, Washington should get to keep the racist sobriquet simply because it already has it?

We live in an era of political correctness. Sure, society sometimes seems like it's comprised of a bunch of hypersensitive babies.

Does that mean we should live without empathy? Should we be content as prisoners of the status quo?

One major reason for this is the relative few who are directly affected by this slur. There were 5.3 million Native Americans living in the United States per the 2010 census, which is about 1.7 percent of the entire U.S. population. There are more Washington football fans than Native Americans.

In other words, that voice is drowned out in a sea of ignorance and complacency.

This is a disparaging term about an ethnic group that went through a genocide in this country. There is no getting around that fact—once you know, you know.

What of other depictions of Native Americans in sports? The Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves have been used as straw men in counterarguments.

Getty Images/Getty Images
Joe Theismann recently expressed support for the team name.

Perhaps we need to examine the merits of those team names as well. More to the point, the argument is specious—Washington clearly employs the most egregious team name of them all.

Some on social media have pointed to other team names that might be considered racial slurs. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns and even Dallas Cowboys have been mentioned as teams with racist names.

Perhaps some will be offended if you call them Cowboys fans, but those are far from offensive. And again, this is a specious argument.

How about we try out some new names? Washington Red Hawks? That would keep "red" in the name, allowing the team to keep its color scheme intact.

What of the Washington Generals? At least there will be a steady contingent of fans showing up to watch the Harlem Globetrotters. How is the pelican a team name before the barracuda? That one is ripe for the picking, too.

Whatever Washington winds up choosing, it will eventually become embedded into pop culture. The Redskins will fade into history, where the name belongs.

The fans will heal. The country will forget. Football will be better off.

 

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