The Washington Redskins are offensive on and off the field. It’s their name, you see. Sticks and stones (and quarterback sacks) break bones, but names can hurt, too, especially in this era.
Think about it: How remarkable is it that the Washington Redskins’ name has endured 81 years in our nation's capital, especially given the hypersensitive, touchy-feely climate in which we live. In this age of Political Correctness run amok, it is a testament to the power of tradition and sports that the name has survived the ‘80s, '90s and on into the next century.
But the end is near. The NFL and the Redskins just don’t know it yet.
Members of the Oneida Indian Nation are meeting in Washington, D.C., this week to promote their campaign to change the name of the local football team. Their symposium is being held in the same hotel where the NFL is holding its fall meetings. The NFL has been invited to attend the Oneida Nation’s symposium, and the NFL says it is prepared to meet with the tribe to discuss the issue.
“We respect that people have differing views,” says NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Actually, there is only one correct view this time, and the NFL should accept the inevitable and capitulate. The NFL’s view is indefensible and almost laughable in the current political climate. The subject has been raised repeatedly for decades and is never going away.
This issue came up in the ‘80s and many of us rallied to defend the Redskins (including me). But times and minds have changed. It is one thing to name teams after an Indian tribe or something related to the Indian culture — Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, University of Utah Utes, Florida State Seminoles; it is another to name a team after skin color with a term that was used derisively by white men when they were sweeping the American Indians off the continent.
“It's a dictionary-defined offensive term," said Ray Halbritter, a leader of the Oneida Indian Nation. “Washington's team name is a painful epitaph that was used against my people … when we were held at gunpoint and thrown off our lands. It is a word that few would use in casual conversation when talking to a Native American. When marketed by a professional sports team, it is a word that tells Native American children that they are to be denigrated — that they are a second-class citizen."
Try to argue with that reasoning.
There have been attempts made — usually by overzealous white people pushing political correctness — to condemn some of the names associated with the Indian culture, including the Utah Utes. Such names serve to keep the memory of the Indians and their culture alive and are not derogatory a la “Redskins.” St. John’s changed its name from Redmen to Red Storm, which made sense. Stanford changed its name from Indian to Cardinals (and then Cardinal), which made no sense.
Let’s face it, if we must eliminate every Indian-related name for sports teams, we’ll have to do the same for states whose names have Indian origins — and that includes Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Good luck with that.
It won’t be easy to think of the Washington Redskins by any other name; imagine calling the Yankees by another name. The Redskins — should we call them the R-Word? — are an 81-year-old franchise with a rich tradition. Some of the game’s legendary players wore their uniforms — Sammy Baugh, Charley Taylor, Joe Theisman, John Riggins, Chris Hanburger, Sam Huff, Sonny Jergensen, Don Shula, Bobby Mitchell, Russ Grimm. The team has won five NFL championships and 13 divisional titles and appeared in the Super Bowl five times, winning three of them.
But change is in the air for the old Redskins. As Mike Wise of the Washington Post wrote this week, “Even if he remains in Washington for his entire NFL career, (current quarterback) Robert Griffin III is not going to retire an R-word.”
The NFL and the ‘Skins just have to decide how long they want to resist the inevitable.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org