Nov 7, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; A Washington Redskins helmet against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Redskins 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Redskins name needs to be changed


Imagine walking onto a Native American reservation in New Mexico or Wisconsin or California or any of the numerous states in which they exist. How would you address the first person you saw? Probably with a simple greeting of “hey” or “how’re you doing?” What you wouldn’t do is call them a redskin.

And why wouldn’t you call them that? Well, because it’s offensive and demeaning.

Following this logic, why then, is it acceptable for a football team—in the nation’s capital no less—to use the word as a nickname?

Here, let me answer that question for you: it isn’t.

A few days ago, the ever-smoldering embers regarding the Redskins name were sparked once again, as 50 United States Senators submitted a call to the NFL to stop using Redskins as a nickname for Washington’s football team.

“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter says. “We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team. We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports.”

In response, the NFL sent out an embarrassing statement defending the use of the name based on their long-standing claims of respect, something I already dissected here.

But this piece isn’t about the NFL’s response, rather about the name in general, and why it must go.

There are conflicting theories on how the word redskin originated, with Ives Goddard, the senior linguist at the Smithsonian Institution, writing that the initial use was for descriptive purposes.

“Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard spent seven months researching its history and concluded that “redskin” was first used by Native Americans in the 18th century to distinguish themselves from the white “other” encroaching on their lands and culture.”

Others, however, such as Suzan Shown Harjo, suggest a more sinister origin.

“As loathsome as it is for the franchise to impose this false identity, its name is even more vile, because it is rooted in the commodification of Native skin and body parts as bounties and trophies.”

Without the ability to travel back in time and settle it once and for all, the debate over the origin of the word will go on forever.

However, the origin of the word matters not. Regardless of how tame or innocent the initial use of the word may have been, the fact remains that at some point along the line, the word picked up negative connotations and became offensive—something it remains today.

As our nation grew and expanded, Native Americans were treated as an inferior people, subjected to vile racism and forced to move from their homes. Millions upon millions were even killed as the government became greedy for the lands they occupied.

Throughout the early history of the United States, Native Americans were described as savages and varmint, a people not to be associated with.

Using the word redskin furthered that non-association that people were desperate to achieve and was yet another way for people to subjugate Native Americans to a lower status. You may argue the word started out in an innocent manner, used to describe a color of skin; but words change meaning over time, and when a group of people are turned into second-class citizens, any word describing them is no longer innocent.

Similar to the debate over how the word redskin was first used, many dispute the reasons why Redskins was chosen as the nickname for Washington’s football team. Once again, however, the origins don’t matter and are irrelevant in the fight to change the name.

We’ve heard the countless claims of honor and respect and the studies alleging the name isn’t offensive. Yet all the while, prominent people—both Native American and non-Native American—decry the name as offensive and insulting. Numerous tribes have called for the name to be dropped, prominent columnists have refused to keep using the word in their writing, and thousands of high schools across the country have dropped the nickname from their sports teams. Even still, Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins organization and the NFL continue to reaffirm their backwards stances on the name.

Based on public feedback, it’s clear many do not find the name to be offensive and do not think it should be changed, which is a sad commentary on today’s society. Thankfully, there are just as many fighting for the name to be changed.

Wanting to change the Redskins name isn’t a case of PC police running wild and ruining the country. The country already has a shameful history of treatment towards Native Americans that borders on genocide. I don’t think wanting to get rid of a racist nickname is going to make that worse.

Wanting to change the Redskins name isn’t a waste of the government’s time. Though it hasn’t always done the best job, our government exists to make the country the best place it can be for all people. When a large group of people feels discriminated against because of something, it is the government’s job is to try and fix that problem.

Wanting to change the Redskins name is a matter of right and wrong, and that’s why it needs to be changed. It’s the right thing to do.

Tags: Featured NFL Popular Top Stories Washington Redskins

  • DDApe

    Once again, Jack, your walking-down-the-street analogy is ridiculous and childish.

    Most people wouldn’t call someone a Redskin because they don’t think of it as a derogatory label. Walk up to someone and call them a Jew with disdain in your voice and it takes on your intended meaning. It becomes
    hateful only in the mind of someone if they intend hatred. What initially comes to mind when I hear the word Redskin is a football team – as do most in our
    society.

    If your goal is to lock in the word as a pejorative in our culture, then continue to lobby for it to be removed as a beloved and inspiring representation of a
    popular sports franchise. Then it will be always associated with hate – is that the
    goal here?

    No one supports the nickname because of hate; to the fans it is a respectful
    symbol of honor and bravery.

    Isn’t that something we should all support?

    HTTR!

  • SactoSteve

    “Hail to the Warriors, hail victory. Braves on the warpath. Fight for old D.C.” (Used to be “fight for old Dixie” until they changed it.)

    Wouldn’t even have to change the fight song or logo. There, wasn’t that easy?

    • DDApe

      Politically Correct accommodation.

      Weak.

  • Johannes

    There are not conflicting theories on how the word originated. That’s a lie. Ives Goddard’s study demonstrates that the term redskins has an unusual amount of etymological evidence for a term coming from that time period, and that the term is of Native American origin. See http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf
    Susan Shown Harjo on the other hand has ZERO evidence of her preposterous claim that the term was ever used to refer to “the commodification of Native skin and body parts as bounties and trophies.”
    Now, there may be an argument that the term is presently adding insult to the injury of what transpired in this country regarding the horrendous genocide against Native America, but you lose your audience when you lie out of your teeth like that Mr. Maloney.

    There is also legal authority supporting the origin of the team name, but I doubt you even looked up the cases. See Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 284 F. Supp.
    2d 96 (D.D.C. 2003).

    Furthermore, I say this as a former Mormon (hey, I was a kid!), Harry Reid needs to shut up. The
    Book of Mormon is predicated on the notion that God scorned Native Americans with “a dark and loathsome skin” and that if they would turn from their “wicked ways” God would turn their skin “white and delightful like the Latter Day Saints.” Now that is something that the
    PC police should be all over, but Harry Reid is a big liberal, so he’s left alone. As a person of mixed race (yes,including Cherokee blood from both of my maternal grandmothers, but I also am
    part Prussian, English, African, and Welsh – and I look as white as can be, if its ok to refer to my skin as white, or was I just racist against myself?), I am far more offended that no one wants
    to tackle the fact that Reid won’t renounce his Mormonism despite its well-chronicled racist past than I am by misnomers like “Indian” or a moniker like “Redskin.” So, this is the same guy you want to lead the march against a football team’s name you claim is racist? Go government go!

    BTW, you wouldn’t walk onto a Native American reservation and say “is this where all the red people are?” And yet, that is exactly what you are saying when you say the Pawnee
    phrase Uukuhuuwa, the Cayuga phrase Gahnawijogeh, or the Choctaw phrase Okla-humma,
    which of course is where the State of Oklahoma gets its name–-The land of the Red
    People.

    • DDApe

      Outstanding post