While controversies over Native American sports team names have occurred routinely since the 1970s, the latest iteration consists of a Minnesota congresswoman demanding that the Washington Redskins abandon their name and cease to “exploit for profit” a racial slur.
The Redskins’ name, which originated in 1933 back when the team was playing in Boston, has long been a source of consternation among Washington fans who view it with pride and others who see it as carrying racist and derogatory connotations.
The debate heated up last month after Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus, publicly scolded Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for attempting to “justify a racial slur.”
McCollum’s reprimand came after Snyder publicly stated that he would never consider changing the name, and after Goodell wrote an unconvincing letter to Congress arguing that the name is a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
Even more bizarre have been the Redskins’ attempts to manufacture support among Washington-area Native Americans, particularly by luring a local Indian “chief” onto its Redskins Nation TV program to defend the name and profess his support for the team.
A few weeks later, it was revealed that the man was not actually a chief (“Chief” was just his nickname, a relative said) and that he was only one-quarter Native American.
Conservative flamethrower Rush Limbaugh added his two cents this week by blasting the name change advocates as “a bunch of liberals” seeking to empower the government, and claimed that if society was really offended by the Redskins’ name, the team wouldn’t be selling out games and pulling high TV ratings.
While Mr. Limbaugh has a point that backlashes over Native American team names can, at times, be considered overly reactionary, the Redskins’ dissenters have plenty of weight to stand on.
Unlike team names that simply use generic Native American terms such as “Braves” or “Indians”, or teams such as the Florida State Seminoles that have enlisted support of the tribe in question, the word “Redskin” benefits nobody and is an egregious slang akin to using the n-word for African Americans or the w-word for Hispanics.
Though changing their position will surely be inconvenient, Daniel Snyder, Roger Goodell and company would be wise to reconsider before the window closes. As long as Robert Griffin III is playing quarterback, Redskins fans will show up regardless of what the team name is.
Aaron Stanley is a former Fergus Falls resident living in Washington, D.C. and an avid sports enthusiast.