There's Absolutely No Reason the Redskins Nickname Should Remain

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 29, 2013

Sep 15, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA;   Kathleen Peters from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin protests the use of the Washington Redskins mascot and logo at Lambeau Field before game against the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

I could be wrong—it's not as though that hasn't been the case many times before—but I have a feeling this is it. I have a feeling this is officially the beginning of the end for the Washington Redskins nickname. 

On Wednesday, senior NFL executives will meet with Oneida Indian Nation regarding the racial epithet that the franchise uses as its moniker. 

That'll force the league to look those who are most offended by the nickname directly in the eye, which could be a game-changer. That's why this might be more than just a symbolic meeting; it might move the process one step forward.

The league and the team have already shown signs that they'll eventually crack. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but eventually.

Earlier this year, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder gave us permission to use capital letters while proclaiming that the team would "NEVER" change its nickname. But Snyder backed off of those comments in a recent letter to fans

Also earlier this year, and before the recent firestorm had begun, commissioner Roger Goodell basically blew off a question about the nickname at the Super Bowl. Now, he's suggesting that the league listen "to people who have a different view," and advocating that the league does "what's right."

The fact that those two were reportedly planning to meet prior to this powwow with Oneida Indian Nation is probably a sign that they're taking this thing more seriously than ever. 

It's apparent that Oneida Indian Nation isn't going to drop this, and protests are seemingly becoming more widespread every week. Highly-respected media members and popular publications are refusing to use the nickname, and with multiple members of congress also taking aim at the slur/name, it might only be a matter of time before team and league partners and sponsors begin to respond to that by applying pressure on both parties. 

/Getty Images

The point is that the NFL might not be capable of waiting this one out. Society's trajectory regarding political correctness doesn't bode well for a name like this. At this point, I believe that change is inevitable. The debate is simply too lopsided when it comes to sheer facts. In my mind, there isn't a defense of the nickname that holds up. Here are the logical and indisputable responses to the five points I most often hear from those who remain in denial:

I Know a Native American Guy/Girl—or I Myself am Native American—and I/We/They Aren't Offended By the Name!

Anecdotal defenses of the name are my favorite. According to the 2010 United States Census, there are approximately 5.2 million Native Americans living in this country. Popular research indicates that the vast majority of us know fewer than 1,000 people and maintain stable social relationships with fewer than 300. That you and your friends are cool with the name is valid, but not statistically significant. 

But 90 Percent of Native Americans Aren't Offended By the Name!

This defense is cited time and again, and it's the worst of them all. Setting aside the fact that it stems from a poll conducted almost an entire decade ago, it makes the false assumption that 90 percent is a good number. 

More specifically, that poll—conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania—revealed that nine percent of self-identified Indians or Native Americans found the name offensive. If we were to extrapolate for the entire Native American population cited above, that would mean that roughly 500,000 Native Americans were offended. Throw in those non-Native Americans who take offense and consider that trends indicate support for the name has generally dropped in recent years and I'm betting that number is actually much, much higher. 

Still, even sticking to half a million, isn't that too much? A group roughly the size of the city of Atlanta is offended, and you're using that number to defend the name? 

The Census Bureau estimates there are 42 million African Americans. Would it be deemed acceptable if nearly 4 million of them were offended by the nickname of a pro sports team? Is it more acceptable to discriminate against smaller minority groups than bigger ones? And let's keep in mind why that Native American population is as small as it is

I don't personally understand how anyone could feel comfortable offending hundreds of thousands of people, all for their right to chant "Hail to the Redskins." 

The Term Isn't Racist!

This is the defense brought forward by those who live in their own personal bubbles. Just because you haven't heard it being used in a racist manner doesn't mean it isn't racist. 

"The term 'redskins' is the most vile and offensive term used to describe Native Americans," Suzan Harjo, who led a failed lawsuit against the team in 2009, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2011, per the Washington Post. "It is most disturbing to the overwhelming majority of Native Americans throughout the country that the professional football team in the nation's capital uses a team name that demeans us."

One question: Why would Suzan make a statement like that if it wasn't the truth? And it's not as though she's alone. Why have dozens of groups protested the name on behalf of thousands of Americans if it isn't perceived as racist? Are they just bored?

It's a big country, man. Just because something doesn't offend you or exist in your world doesn't mean that applies to the rest of us. The Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries agree that the word "Redskin" is offensive, and I'm going to side with those guys. Regardless of whether the name was intended to be an homage, it hasn't been received as such by a large number of people.

If the Redskins Change Their Nickname, Then the Chiefs, Indians, Braves and Warriors Should Have to As Well!

Redskins is the only nickname in American professional sports that is racist. Standing alone, none of those mentioned above are offensive at all. Their intent could be questioned, and the Indians logo certainly should be considered an issue, but Redskins is deservedly in a category of its own.

But even if there were other racist nicknames in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, why should that matter? I ditched the "but everybody else is doing it!" defense before graduating from grade school. 

And by even sarcastically suggesting that PETA should thus force teams like the Lions, Tigers and Bears to change their names, you're perpetuating the discriminatory nature of this debate by equating a minority group of human beings with animals. Animals are mascots, not people.

The Name Was In Place For Decades Without Anyone Caring. Why Should It Change Now?

Society evolves and becomes more inclusive, more sensitive. Less than a century ago, women couldn't vote. Seventy years ago, black men couldn't play Major League Baseball. Potentially hurtful words (negro, for example) and customs become less acceptable as we grow as a culture. That should be celebrated, not stunted.

Oct 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Diana Parton (left) and Yolonda Bluehorse protest outside AT&T Stadium prior to the game with the Dallas Cowboys playing against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There are still those who will stubbornly push forward in defense of the name. I understand that they have emotional attachments and that those are hard to sever, but I also believe that many of those same Redskins defenders will one day be embarrassed that they were once on the wrong side of progress on this issue.

All that really matters here is that thousands of American men and women would feel better if the name were changed, while not one person's life would be negatively affected by said change. If you're in favor of maintaining the status quo, you're being selfish. And if Oneida Indian Nation can relay that sentiment to the NFL on Wednesday, they'll succeed. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.