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Should the Redskins Be Forced To Change Their Mascot?

Change the Mascot is a campaign organized by the Oneida Indian Nation to get the Redskins to change their mascot. KRLD, which broadcasts Cowboys games, has been airing ads that urge the team from Washington to ditch what the Oneida Indian Nation considers a racial slur. I hate to say this. It makes me nervous to do so. But I think I agree with Mark Davis on this one. Here’s some of what he wrote in the Morning News yesterday:

Revisit the Basic Truth of Sports Team Names: No one has ever named a team for something they considered dishonorable or distasteful. Every name ever affixed to a team has been to portray the team in a positive light.

This was true of the Boston Redskins when they adopted that imagery 80 years ago, and it was true when the team name stuck five years later in a move to Washington.

At that time, and today, Redskin has no body of usage as an epithet in its own right. None. The attachment of a negative modifier in old movies (dirty, bloody) no more stigmatizes the term itself than the adjectives that have been attached to Yankee over the years, and that doesn’t seem to torture New Yorkers.

You want to get lathered up about Native American imagery? Go talk to Cleveland.

Indian

Update (10:37) – Eric saw this post and pointed me to the Nation’s take-down of Rick Reilly’s defense of the Redskins name. Eric compared Reilly’s argument with Davis’. The two aren’t comparable. Everything Reilly wrote, as The Nation points out, is silly. I don’t buy into his arguments. But Davis’ argument about the name itself, it makes sense prima facie. The name Redskins itself is not offensive. What is offensive — and I needed a few minutes to realize this, because I am, apparently, a huge racist — is committing genocide on a people and then naming a sports team after them. And, yes, yes, I realize that Daniel Snyder did not commit genocide. But you get my point. Even if you named a football team The Noble Fighting Native Americans, that would still be a bad move.

So to clarify as I reconsider: I agree with Mark Davis. But I also think the Redskins name was a bad choice. Can we keep the Fighting Irish, though? Please?

40 comments on “Should the Redskins Be Forced To Change Their Mascot?

  1. Chief Wahoo, the Indians’ mascot, is certainly more offensive than the, the picture of an Indian warrior that the Washington NFL team uses. But “Redskins” is a belittling, offensive term.

    Would you be comfortable with a team called the Chicago Negroes? the San Francisco Chinamen?

    The Redskins name is an ugly relic that needs to go.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with Davis’ premise, that “No one has ever named a team for something they considered dishonorable or distasteful.” – It may not have been considered dishonorable or distasteful to THEM, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dishonorable or distasteful in general.

  3. True, but we obviously love our ugly relics (see Confederate flag). And I do hope I win the D office pool for quickest reference in this post to the Stars and Bars!

  4. No, no. That is Davis’ point. It’s not an ugly relic. The word “redskin” was not pejorative when it came into use. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary cites as earliest usage quotes from Native Americans. That’s what they called themselves. The word has only relatively recently become offensive (to some).

    All of which is beside the point, as you can now see in my update to the post.

  5. Let’s see, well, the very first sentence of Davis’ piece puts forth the same debunked line of reasoning as Reilly’s:

    “Some sports journalists covering the Dallas Cowboys game Sunday will face an obstacle. Their editors will not allow the name of the opponent to see the light of day.”

    As The Nation pointed out: it’s three. Grantland’s Bill Simmons (who is the E-I-C and can do what he wants), Peter King (who has his own MMQB site and probably can do what he wants), and USA Today’s Christine Brennan. So “some sports journalists” is, I guess, technically correct. But there is a heavy implication in the way Davis uses it. And he sticks with that balsa-flimsy premise for the first several short paragraphs, so GREAT START, MARK.

    In fact, much of the middle has a tinge of freedom of speech/freedom of the press, which would make for a good argument if it were remotely true. It’s not.

    But then the kicker, and the part you seem to agree with, Tim.

    “Revisit the Basic Truth of Sports Team Names: No one has ever named a team for something they considered dishonorable or distasteful. Every name ever affixed to a team has been to portray the team in a positive light.

    This was true of the Boston Redskins when they adopted that imagery 80 years ago, and it was true when the team name stuck five years later in a move to Washington.”

    George Preston Marshall, the longtime owner of the Redskins and NOTED RACIST, changed the team’s name from Braves to Redskins for very specious reasoning. Marshall, the same guy who, upon entering the NFL, is strongly believed to have put a ban on black players in place, a ban he kept for his own team for another 15 years (1961) after it was eventually lifted. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/01/the-racist-redskins.html)

    Other than that, great piece by Mark, great blog post by you.

  6. Davis’ argument is specious.

    The meanings of words change over the course of many years. When I refer to “Redskin” as an ugly relic, I’m talking about the centuries during which the term has picked up derogatory connotations. Check out NPR’s look at the history of the word, here:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/09/09/220654611/are-you-ready-for-some-controversy-the-history-of-redskin

    NPR notes that by the late 1800s to the early 1900s the term had moved from commonly being an identifier to a slur. That’s relevant because we’re talking about a team that adopted the name in the early 20th century, not the 18th.

    And even if the team’s owners believed they were honoring Native Americans with this moniker, look at these lyrics from the team’s fight song from five years after the name change:

    “Scalp ‘em, swamp ‘em — we will take ‘em big score / Read ‘em, weep ‘em, touchdown! — we want heap more!”

    Again, I point you to words like “Negro” or “Chinamen,” both of which began as simple descriptors of a physical characteristic or national origin but came to be transformed into words that I can’t imagine any reasonable person finding as an acceptable name for a sports team.

  7. First, I didn’t agree with that first part of Davis’ column.

    Second, I wish we had a podcast of the discussion that just went down in the office. Because THAT was entertaining. And informative. I didn’t that stuff about Marshall.

    Third, WHERE THE HELL IS GLENN HUNTER? We need him to weigh in.

  8. Good point. This makes it ok. ;) (From the NPR story.)

    “Marshall also sought to strongly tie the team to Native American imagery, occasionally requiring Dietz to wear a Sioux headdress on the sidelines and telling players to wear war paint while on the field.”

  9. “Great” and “Dave Zirin” should never appear in the same sentence. Possibly never in the same paragraph, either.

  10. The name is offensive to Native Americans just as the N word is blacks. If you offends, then stop using it.

  11. That should have been…The name is offensive to Native Americans just as the N word is to blacks. That’s why the name should be changed.

  12. Be careful what you wish for. All that’s needed to make the name FrontBurner just as racially offensive is for a large enough minority to keep explaining why it is, over and over. Eventually, enough people will join them, just to be sure.

  13. Negro was good enough for the Negro Leagues (baseball) and the New York Black Yankees were one of the teams.

  14. Has anyone checked with a real cowboy to see if they are offended by the Dallas Cowboys use of their name?

  15. It would seem that the Ottawa Senators breaks the rule of the Basic Truth about Sports Team Names.

  16. Fascinating point, Dubious Brother, regarding a long ago era when MLB was purposely segregated. The “Negro Leagues” was a good enough term back then, right? I suppose “Negro water fountains” was a good enough term, too. Ah, the old days!

  17. Gotta watch out for those “large enough” minorities. California and Texas should be especially vigilant.

  18. On a related note, the Green Bay Packers were founded by a fudge company for the employees/players in their packing department. LITTLE KNOWN FACT.

  19. @Dubious Brother, terms that define a profession (Pirates), or wildlife (Bears), or geography (Lakers), are not comparable to slang terms for ethnic groups. Highly dubious point you’re making here, which perhaps explains your own chosen moniker.

  20. This comments to this post are why I love this blog. Just to be clear about what happened here:

    I read something written by Mark Davis and agreed with it. That was such an unusual occurrence that I figured it was worthy of the blog. We got into a discussion about racism and etymology and history. It was conducted in a civil, humorous, and enlightening fashion. The discussion changed my mind about my original post.

    Again, it was all done without getting insane. I have not read the comments to Mark Davis’ DMN post, but I bet they not read like the ones here. Thank you for that, everyone.

  21. Your comment is clearly post-Monk, which is why you’re so embarrassingly sappy and maudlin here. (I was about to punctuate this by calling you a derogatory name, but perhaps using one of the numerous slurs in my repertoire, as I ordinarily would, would not go over so great on this post.)

  22. If you won’t call an individual by the name, it’s shouldn’t be used for a mascot name.

  23. when Jason and Eric buy the Redskins they can change the name
    “No Consensus Among Indians on ‘Redskins’ Name”
    http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/indians-redskins-slur-20505945

    from 2004
    “Most Indians Say Name of Washington “Redskins” Is Acceptable
    While 9 Percent Call It Offensive, Annenberg Data Show”
    http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/downloads/political_communication/naes/2004_03_redskins_09-24_pr.pdf
    “Three Virginia Indian tribes not offended by Redskins”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2013/05/15/three-virginia-indian-tribes-not-offended-by-redskins/

  24. This is a tough one. I agree with you Tim–that may be a first–that the name probably wasn’t the best choice to begin with. On the other hand, it appears that this entire campaign is being orchestrated by one D.C.-based American Indian activist who’s persuaded the Oneida Indian Nation to carry the water for the cause. Mainstream respected polls, meanwhile, have indicated that most American Indians don’t object to the team names. It’s instructive that this same radical fringe has lobbied, for (one ridiculous) example, to get the Zia sun symbol taken off the New Mexico state flag. Since the fringe is increasingly adept at capitalizing on white guilt via a compliant media–see the flap over the common-sense term, “illegal immigrant”–I wouldn’t be surprised if it were successful in the end in this instance, too.

  25. @Peter Kurliecz, your argument is lame based on my own experience. My dad was a racist, used the N word to much consternation within his own family. His position was that Clarence, an African American at the Mobil station in University Park, used it freely and obviously didn’t see a problem, so why should my dad? That seems to be what you are saying here, but I don’t buy it now any more than I did when I was 12 years old.

  26. So…I’m Native American (technically) 1/8, different tribes, from both sides of my family. Jason, the term “Redskin” is NOT an insult. In fact, the nickname “Red” is common for both men and women.

    Let me give you an example of a term that is offensive…”gut eater.” That’s offensive, and something that I was called as a child, and heard said to both my mom and dad when they went home to visit family near the Red River.

    Another offensive term? Is something that Native Americans call each other, specifically Comanche. It’s a word, I won’t repeat, but is basically the n-word with added insult. Culturally, it means a Native American who probably is of mixed (white) race, and works in farming, therefore having darker skin (vs. staying on the reservation and collecting a check.) That’s offensive. I’ve been called that, too.

    I don’t identify at all with the Oneida tribal stance on the Redskins, and think it’s really ridiculous. When I talked to my grandmother about this, several years ago, she thought the sports team mascots were great and honorable. We always wore hats and t-shirts for the Redskins, Braves, and Indians. But, if someone wants to be a victim, then they will find a way to be a victim. It’s a minority, although very vocal, calling for the Redskins name change.

    I also have Scot, German, and English heritage. I’m not offended by Scotts lawn care ads, stereotypes of German characters (most Bavarian), or Austin Powers movies, either. I think changing the name removes the history and tradition.

    This is just a way to drum up controversy, where none exists. If the Oneida tribe is so offended, perhaps they should start with the Land o’ Lakes butter box. It is funny to me that it’s a bunch of white guys arguing about this on a blog.

  27. Peter, as you know, most complaints about racism these days are used by white people to leverage their positions against other white people, just as in earlier days they used the minorities themselves in the same way, to the same ends.

  28. Thank you Amanda – I have two friends who are full blooded Apache and Osage that totally agree with you. Your last sentence sums it up well.

  29. Brent, you are wrong. The original team were fudge packers as Handy Helper noted above.