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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

It’s time for the Redskins to change their name

The question that has been on the minds of many football fans and Native Americans, whether or not the Washington Redskins will change their name, is in its final stages of deliberation. The NFL is meeting with the Oneida Indian Nation to discuss the changing of the name sometime this month or in November. If the name change does officially happen, how big of an influence is this going to have on the team itself? And is this even really a big deal?
If the fans are as loyal as they claim, the change shouldn’t be detrimental. And well…long story short, yes. This is a big deal. The team has come under fire recently because many believe that the team name and mascot are incredibly derogatory, racist and demeaning to the Native American culture. Using a people’s interpreted skin color is not an appropriate team mascot. When we first settled this nation, the only way we could make sense of and differentiate who these foreign strangers were was probably by identifying their skin color as red because it seemed so strange to the white our nation’s settlers were used to. But that was centuries ago, and we should know better now.

According to The Washington Post, when the team originated back in 1932, four players, the head coach, and the assistant coach were Native American, and the name bounced around from “Boston Braves” to “Boston Redskins.” George Allen, coach of the 1971 Washington Redskins, negotiated with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund to design the Redskins helmets, an image that has persevered throughout the years. It is meant to be a symbol of strength, a representation of the Native American race that represents pride and respect.

But not all people see it that way. Owner of the Redskins, Dan Snyder, wrote a letter to fans on October 9 to stress these factors and more that the name and symbol have tradition and represent strength, not racism. But the issue with this and many other claims and arguments is that they come from Western, Caucasian standpoints and neglect the basic issue at hand. Using skin color of a culture and nation of people as a team mascot is intrinsically wrong, regardless of who it is. How would Snyder feel about the Washington Whitefaces, or to quote WaPo’s Kathleen Parker, the Drunken Irish? He and many others could probably also make a case defending what each of those stands for in a positive, light-hearted manner, but the basic issue is that it categorizes race and culture in an indifferent, thoughtless way. Synder, by the way, asserted back in May of this year, “we’ll never change the name […] It’s that simple. NEVER. You can use all caps.” He believes that Redskins fans understand the tradition and what the team name is all about and what it means (he has said that he won’t be attending the meeting with Oneida,as well).

There are some Native American people who have said it doesn’t bother them, like Robert Green, former chief of the Patawomeck Tribe of Fredericksburg. He said, “completely remove the Indian identity from anything and pretty soon … you have a wipeout in society of any reference to Indian people,” which he thinks is more detrimental than leaving it as the mascot of a football team. After all, the Washington Redskins aren’t doing anything to tarnish the name of Native Americans or use it as a slur. But most spokespeople for the Oneida tribe associate the name with the horrible acts of violence done against their people: “Washington’s team name is a painful epitaph that was used against my people, Indian people, when we were held at gunpoint and thrown off our lands,” Ray Halbritter, a leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, said in a symposium. Anger probably also stems from a bit of Washington Redskins history with their roster. U.S. House of Representatives former member Eleanor Holmes Norton reminded us all, “‘This is a team that had to be forced into racial integration’ […] recalling how in 1962 the Redskins were the last professional U.S. football team to put African-Americans on its roster.” A name change could be a good clean slate for the team, showing that they aren’t resistant to change, inclusion or respect in any way.

Parker puts it best: “Jokes in any case are funniest when they are on oneself, not at the expense of others,” and I think that is what we can take from this. There isn’t any race that can be used in a safe, harmless or objective manner as a team mascot.
With such a loyal and substantial fan base, the change should not have a huge impact on the reputation and support of the Redskins. Fans should remain loyal because of their love for the team itself, not what it is named. It may cost more to reprint every item they have with a new name and mascot, but it’s probably for the best to avoid future conflicts with entire races.

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It’s time for the Redskins to change their name