Redskin: n. Offensive slang. Used as a disparaging term for Native Americans.
The case of Harjo vs. Pro Football Inc. in 1992 raised awareness of a controversy that many were not aware of until they saw the mascots of many universities and high schools changing around them. Schools and franchises across the nation changed logos, mascots, and many traditions in favor of the much more deep rooted traditions of Native Americans. Often poorly represented, portrayed offensively, or even mocked, Native Americans fought to change the way they were displayed in sports. One of the most controversial and long standing issues with a team’s logo is with the Washington Redskins. The Harjo vs. Pro Football Inc. case was just one of many efforts in the last 25 or so years for Native Americans to have the Redskins be renamed.
With the buzz about RGIII and the resurgent playoff team Redskins, brings a buzz about the lingering issues that one of the biggest sports markets in the country has with it. Owner Dan Snyder is not exactly known for his tact as far as anything offensive goes. He has repeatedly defended the use of the Redskins’ logo and claimed that it is honoring Native Americans. Taking a look back at the history of the mascot, we have to go back to the days of the Boston Braves. While in Boston and playing at Fenway Park, the Boston Braves’ owner George Preston Marshall changed the name of the team from the Braves’ to the Redskins supposedly to honor the Red Sox, and then head coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, of the Sioux Nation.
Now that could possibly be all chalked up to a “different era” or a political correctness of the period that was much different from ours if it weren’t for the well known fact that George Preston Marshall was an outspoken advocate for segregation and spoke out against equal rights. Since the early 80s, when the Redskins were all over highlight reels, the issue has been stewing with offended Native Americans. With today’s Washington team making headlines again, the issue has resurfaced, even prompting commissioner Roger Goodell to daintily address it in last year’s State of the League.
In the discussion of whether the mascot should be changed or not in Washington, has merit on both sides. Native Americans advocating for change cite the weight of the word Redskin and the spotty history of the higher ups in the Redskins franchise and their outspoken opinions. Conversely, the other side of the argument cites the deep and rich history of the team and how the intentions for today’s generation is to honor the culture.
People have suggested everything from completely changing the mascot, to changing the way that the mascot is represented, to altering the name to the “Red” or even the “Skins” (yes…the Skins). Even something as small as changing the team traditions will be difficult with the rigid nature of Dan Snyder and his cohorts.
My Two Cents:
For what it’s worth, having read many different sides from both the writing and fan communities, I’ve come to two conclusions.
1. It’s definitely going to change, there’s no way that one of the biggest sports markets in the world is going to stand defiantly amongst the wave of change that Native American referenced mascots have undergone in the last 20 years. The best case scenario for die-hard Redskins fans that believe it shouldn’t change is that they develop some sort of agreement like the Florida State Seminoles have with The Seminole Nation. That’s a bit farfetched however as the tribe that “Redskins” referenced has since died out, and the term itself is about as honorary as “Orientals.” So unless every Native American reaches a deal with Dan Snyder where they can be honored by their terms under a banner reading a racial slur…it’s not going to happen.
2. Things like this really bring out people’s true colors (no pun intended). It’s baffling how passionately people speak about things they would never say in front of their mothers. Surprisingly, most of the tactful statements and supporters for the change come from the south, a place not usually known for being the most progressive place. A high population of people with at least some fraction of Native American heritage could be the explanation. One thing is for sure, if we were talking about changing the Jacksonville TarBabies, or the Trenton Gumbas there would be no debate. The bottom line in this that makes me stand with Native Americans is that they are the most wronged, most abused, yet incredibly underrepresented. However, the real issue here is where does it all stop? I’m all for the Redskins changing their ways in today’s society where the country is very slowly being taken out of the hands of Good Ol’ Boys that bring their Granddaddy and Pa’s rich White American ethics with them.
But what’s next?!
Are those guys from the Gold Rush reality show going to demand that San Francisco are no longer the 49ers? Is the Catholic Church and French Church going to demand that the Saints change? Are the very tall going to demand that the Giants become the New York Football Tall People? Is Mufasa going to return from the grave to demand that the Lions stop giving his species a bad name?
I hope not. I don’t want my kids to play football for the Springfield Aggressive Everymans, or to go watch a World Series between the St. Louis Fine Competitors and the Detroit Good Sports.
There are dire consequences to taking things too far in either direction. The burning question has become who gets to decide what’s offensive or isn’t. The obvious answer that has been right under our noses the whole time is “us.” We are responsible as a society, there shouldn’t be pressure on people in administrative positions to decide what’s right and wrong. It’s up to us as a whole to raise the bar, to improve the world we live in and the world our children will live in. The dissolution of responsibility makes me sick, we all need to step it up.
Touchdown New York Tall People!