The Washington Redskins and owner, Dan Snyder, have come under heavy criticism for their staunch resistance to changing the team’s name amidst backlash that the name is offensive to Native Americans.
This is not a new problem for sport franchises. The Cleveland Indians feature a caricature of a smiling Indian as its logo, the Atlanta Braves encourage fans to wave a tomahawk in unison as a rallying mechanism, and hockey has the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the Washington Redskins is a larger target of criticism as the team name (Redskins) is a racial slur that has a history of oppression attached to it.
President Obama has recently said he would consider changing the name if he were owner. The NFL plans to meet with an Indian tribe to discuss the matter.
Yet, Dan Snyder and the Redskins are not having it. Earlier this year he proclaimed:
We’ll never change the name. It’s simple. NEVER — you can use caps.
However, in the face of increasing opposition, Snyder drafted a letter to Washington season ticket holders in which he softened his stance - making the case that the team name is part of a storied history in American culture, one that should be celebrated:
We cannot ignore our 81-year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. After 81 years, the team name “Redskins” continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.
In a curious yet clearly calculated choice of words, Snyder refers to his team’s fans as “Redskins Nation” - conjuring Native reservations in attempting to link the histories of his team with that of Native Americans. If the name is accepted by Native Americans as part of the American and football fabric, then how can it be problematic?
Dana Milbank’s writing offers a more complete understanding of the intricacies surrounding the controversy. I take specific issue with Snyder’s argument that the name is part of the history of the team and league, part of American culture, and thus should be seen as a positive. Societies change and hopefully evolve over time. The use of nigger as a pejorative was socially acceptable, until it was not. It was very much a part of the American culture and fabric of society. We should also be mindful that oppression is often codified and legitimized by culture. The important activism of counter-culture is what brings about the change that improves society.
I can’t help but wonder how different the discussion would be if the team were named the Washington Niggers - a crude hypothetical - but one that is useful to interrogate why one slur is deemed unacceptable and not the other.
Is there any utility in differentiating between the severity of pejorative terms? Some argue that nigger is far more offensive and carries more offensive weight than redskin, and so the comparison between the two is merely convenient. But when referring to women, is it more damaging to demean with bitch rather than cunt? There is no moral high-ground to be had in perpetuating the lesser of two evils.
Why do we accept that redskin is not offensive? This is the vital consideration in all of this.
Are Native Americans conceptualized outside the public consciousness of America? They exist and are equal under the law, but in a dichotomous society where blacks and whites dominate the discourse surrounding race relations, do Native Americans get pushed to the outskirts? Could this have something to do with why there are many who feel that the term is not offensive?
As a rich white man, how does Dan Snyder not see that he is not the best judge as to whether or not something is offensive to a minority? Perhaps that is precisely why he is oblivious to the full extent of the problem, or worse yet, doesn’t care.
The bottom line is that this is some archaic shit. The name must be changed. People will deal with it. The NFL will be better for it. In time the team and Americans will look back and know they took too long to do the right thing. This is not a fabricated issue by liberals with nothing better to do but deploy the PC police on a great American institution. Rather, this is an obvious problem with a simple solution. Get to it Dan Snyder, do the right thing.