The Redskins Name (Revisited)

This was originally posted on April 28, 2013. Below is the original version. Afterwards, there is an update to my post.

In the D.C. Area, there has been a lot of talk about the Redskins nickname. Recently, there has been a surge of coverage and protesters who want Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, to rename the team. The reason for this surge is the popularity of Robert Griffin III. People believe if RGIII stands on an issue, everyone will follow and accept it, hence these protests and exhibits in D.C. to bring the movement forward.

On one side, “Redskin” is slang for a racial descriptor for Native Americans that is meant to offend. Also, the Redskins name didn’t come from D.C.; it came from Boston when George Preston Marshall had complete control of the Boston Braves, renamed it the Redskins and then moved the team to D.C. in 1937 to reach the southern market. Although Marshall has done charitable things in the D.C. area, he was a promoter first and that means pander to his audience and that is the southern market. He also change the lyrics of “Hail to the Redskins” from “Fight for old D.C.” to “Fight for old Dixie.” It has since change back to the original lyrics.

On the other side, most proponents of keeping the Redskins name say it is keeping the tradition and using surveys of Native Americans stating they aren’t offended with the term. Although that might be true, they don’t give a strong argument of keeping the name. To make a stronger argument, you have to see the organization’s intent of using the name. In my opinion, Dan Snyder is using it to the best represent Native American culture. At worst, he is profiting out of the name but not out of racism, but with their history of success in the 1980s.

The tiebreaker to me and why I’m for keeping the name is the Washington Redskins have redefine the name. Instead of using it as a racial slur, the Redskins represent community, greatness (in the 80s), unity, and pride. As an example, look at the “Harlem Shake.” The Harlem Shake was popularized by the people of Harlem, NY, but it has gain worldwide recognition because of a few random people started a meme that everyone can enjoy by randomly dancing and wearing costumes and bring joy. Although the initial term for “redskin” had a negative connotation, the Washington Redskins have change it enough that a slur is secondary.

Then why all this hatred of the Redskins name? Frankly, it is not about the Redskins name, but the person currently behind the Redskins name. Dan Snyder is one of the most polarizing figures in this area. On one hand, he has used his money trying to buy a Super Bowl and use the Redskins as a marketing tool and not building an actual football team, although in the past few years, he has change his image some. Also, he hasn’t been friendly to fans and media members here locally. If Snyder had change his persona some years back, maybe there would be some deflection on the Redskins name, but most of the hype on the Redskins name is caused by him, either directly or indirectly.

Tony Kornheiser was right that the Redskins name will or will not change because it is simply to be correct. The question is what is correct? Do we leave the word alone because we were told it was bad, do we fight to change the meaning to be correct, or is there another reason?

UPDATE:

There are two things to read. The first was how the term, “Redskins,” came about from research by Senior Linguist of the Smithsonian on Native Americans, Ives Goddard. The second is a comment from a reader of Andrew Sullivan about how his son is treated when he says he’s part-Native American. To me, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion on the word. Those two are the best for and against the term. I really think everyone needs to be educated on the term “Redskins” more because the more people I hear, they want to be right for their benefit.

The debate still lives on and probably be debated the rest of my lifetime. I still hold the opinion that the current Redskins team is not trying to be racist. Capitalist? Yes, but was it for profit or trying to win a championship? That’s tough to tell. However, I tend to agree with the commenter that people don’t know what it is to be Native American. Most of us believe in the pop culture version of a Native American, not an actual one. I can see both “truthful” sides of the argument. I think there’s too much noise for people who are creating it trying to make it themselves. This makes this debate useless unless there’s a proper dialogue. Sadly, I don’t see that in the near future.

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