For many people, myself included, the term “Redskin” is a racial slur one would only use with the intent to disparage Native Americans. In fact, many Native Americans compare the word “Redskin” to the N-word. So why is an NFL team clinging desperately to the name, refusing to change it, despite the fact that it so obviously has the potential to belittle and demoralize an entire minority population? Why do the Washington Redskins refuse to even contemplate a name that wouldn’t offend?
A little background: The Washington Redskins were first owned by a man named George Marshall. He was a notorious racist who was vehemently opposed to having blacks on his team (or any team, for that matter). The NFL began signing black men in 1946, but Marshall refused to do so until 1962 and that was only because the government said they’d revoke his lease on the stadium unless he signed a black player. The Redskins were the very last team in the NFL to be integrated.
Now we can’t prove that the Redskins’ name is racist because the owner was a racist. It is worth mentioning, however, that the original lyrics to the Redskins’ fight song (written by Marshall’s wife) contain the following phrases: “Braves on the warpath, fight for Old Dixie! Scalp ’em, swamp ’em, we will take ’em big score.” Lovely.
The song has since been updated, but is still offensive to many, despite being one of the most popular and well-known fight songs in the NFL.
Many Redskins’ fans take no issue with the name, citing history, pride, respect, and as one of them stated the fact that “we as a people make race out to be a bigger issue than it is." (That’s an actual quote from Sarah Lee, a 36-year—old stay-at-home mom.)
Regardless, it is obvious to many people that the Redskins’ name is completely inappropriate and it's up to those people to do something about it.
Ten members of Congress recently took on this fight, sending a letter to current Redskins owner Dan Snyder, asking him to change the name of the team. They pointed out: “For decades now, Native American leaders and organizations have been advocating and end to the use of 'redskin' […] because it’s derogatory, demeaning, and offensive.” They go on to say, “The NFL will never fulfill its ‘Commitment to Diversity’ as long as this racial slur remains a key component of the NFL organization.”
This letter was sent three weeks after Dan Snyder told “USA Today” that they will “never change the name of the team” and that “the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means."
He continued, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
As expected, Dan Snyder had no response to Congress’ letter. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, however, did write back clearly stating the NFL’s position:
"The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. For the team's millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America's most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” He went on to add that “it was not intended to “denigrate Native Americans or offend any group.”
Clearly, the NFL is going to do whatever they want, as they hold almost all of the cards in this situation. The problem, I think, is that Goodell and Snyder actually believe that the name is okay. That it isn’t hurtful. And this might be because of the fact that an AP-GfK poll conducted in April showed that 79% of Americans are in favor of the team keeping the name.
But are we seriously putting racism up for a vote? In THIS country?
I want to be baffled about how the Redskins name, a name equated with the N-word, could possibly still be used and revered in this day and age -- but sadly, it doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s still backlash about taking “politically correctness” too far, even if being “politically correct” means not offending an entire population who the founders of this country systematically dismantled and abused.
American Indians, who are indigenous to North America, now make up only 1% of the U.S. population. It is our job to help them fight for their rights and their respect. Just because a portion of the population doesn’t seem to know or care that the term redskin is a racial slur doesn’t mean that it’s okay for the NFL to keep using it as the name of a football team.
The Washington Redskins need to change their name. And they need to do it now.
Of course, that won’t happen any time soon. So the only solace I can take in all of this is knowing that one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, we’ll all look back and say, “I can’t BELIEVE Washington’s team was ever called the Redskins. Who in his right mind thought THAT was OK?”
Follow @daisy on Twitter for her thoughts on the NFL and much more.