Redskins: Have we become too comfortable with the name?


I find it interesting that there are some things in my life that I have accepted without much thought.

When critics spoke out at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. against the use of the name “Redskins” for Washington’s NFL franchise, I didn’t give the argument much credibility. I closed my web page, dismissing the story as just another example of people becoming overly sensitive about something that wasn’t that big of a deal. After further thought, I have come to realize how sad it is that I had that initial thought.

I was born in 1993. By 1994 I was walking. Through the following year I began to learn words. My parents first helped me learn their names, then my older brother’s, and then my vocabulary expanded to words of high intelligence, such as “duck” or “food.” As I grew up and learned the names for the things around me, I never questioned why they were named the way they were. “Table” was just the name for the thing that held up my mashed peas. As a toddler, I didn’t care what it was called so long as the so-called “table” didn’t collapse and ruin my dinner.

The same learning process occurred as I was introduced to sports. Living in Houston, I learned our professional teams were named the Oilers, Astros, and Rockets. Again, I never really questioned why they were named those names, I just learned, recited, and accepted.

I believe this is the premise of my initial reaction to the massive outcry to change the name of the Washington Redskins. For me, they have always been the Redskins. That was the name of the football team in burgundy and gold for as long as “table” had been a table. If IKEA came out and declared that they were no longer going to sell tables and that they were coming up with a new name for the piece of material that had multiple legs and a flat surface, I would perceive them as crazy and never shop there again.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Most of the football culture of America, like me, has come to accept and become comfortable with the name Redskins. This name was not created as a general noun to identify something and its use in one word. It was a nickname given in 1933 by then co-owner George Preston Marshall, renaming his Boston team after the ethnicity of their new football coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who claimed to be a Lakota man.

Marshall could have chosen “Indians,” or even kept “Braves”, but instead decided to use a word that described skin color. That in itself should raise some flags.

A white person could make the statement, “I wouldn’t mind if some team decided to name themselves the ‘Pale-faces’ or some other Caucasian term. But unfortunately it runs even deeper than that.

The group of people that the term “Redskins” refers to, are indigenous people to this land we call America. Before 1942, the Native American population is estimated to have been roughly five million. By 1900, the population diminished to about 250,000. The immigrants, who then became ‘Americans’, drove the indigenous people out of their land by force and pushed them onto reservations that are still intact today. Let us remember that first of all.

The stereotype that comes along with the term “Redskin,” refers to the natives who were warriors, who rode bareback on horses into battle, and wore headdresses and embodied a sense of bravery. This is the Native American popular culture has presented to the current population. Previous owners of the Washington Redskins have made the statement that they were honoring Native Americans with this presentation. Many Native Americans have strongly disagreed. (link to The portrayal of savagery is an unfair portrayal.

This is problem that has occurred. If there is a misportrayal of the name that has been chosen, then there are grounds for the name to be changed. As a white male, I would be offended if a team decided to call themselves the Caucasians and had a mascot running around on away games beating up opponents fans and then painting
them red, white, and blue.

That’s the point that I am making. That’s why I believe Washington will change its name in the near future. There just needs to be more awareness of the situation to bring the football culture to the realization of what the name “Redskins” really represents. The discussion at the National Museum of the American Indian began that awareness.

I understand now. But the ultimate decision will fall upon NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the Washington organization. Perhaps they will understand.