Should the Washington Redskins Change their Name?

Today the Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears in a back and forth, exciting 45 to 41 game. Although they were able to outlast the Bears in a contest with very little effective defense, the Washington professional football team may not be able to outlast their opponents in another contest. Proponents of keeping the team name, Redskins, find themselves, like their team, without an effective defense.

The Redskins began their existence in 1932 in Boston under the name of the Braves which matched the name of the Boston baseball team they shared a field with. The next year, according to Wikipedia, the team moved to Fenway park where the Boston Red Sox played (and still do,) and changed their name to Redskins to match Red Sox better. In 1937 the team moved to Washington D.C.

It’s not completely clear why a movement to change the name has picked up momentum over the past year but it has. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of comments from prominent figures about the name. Television commentator Bob Costas used his platform on Sunday Night Football to argue that the name is “an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer claimed that the team should follow the trend of common usage which suggests that most people wouldn’t use the word Redskins “because the word [is] tainted, freighted with negative connotations with which you would not want to be associated.” President Obama even said in an interview that if he were the owner he would think about changing the name.

A few voices have come out in defense of the name. Foremost among them is the team owner, Daniel Snyder, who wrote a public letter to fans that was reprinted in many newspapers. Snyder sites public polls that show that most people, even most Native Americans are not offended by the use of the word “Redskins” in the team name. He also takes what I consider to be an unbelievably wrong-headed tack in arguing that the name should be preserved because of its great and historic legacy during the 81 years of the team’s existence. I can’t believe that in arguing for the preservation of a name with connections to a genocidal history that anyone thinks playing to its history is a good idea. Often vilified ESPN columnist Rick Reilly makes an interesting case for the name by (after first giving himself the street cred to make this argument without being accused of being racist by name-dropping his “father-in-law, a Blackfeet Indian”) sharing stories of mostly high-school teams with similar names whose predominantly Native American population are proud and defensive of. Reilly’s best line addresses Native Americans who defend the name, “Too late. White America has spoken. You aren’t offended, so we’ll be offended for you.” This paradox is also addressed in the best article I’ve read on the issue. Published on and written by a Blackfeet Indian, Gyasi Ross, the article looks at what he believes the larger issue is — the unequal treatment of Native Americans as compared to other minorities by the mainstream public. He writes, “NO non-black person has ever gone rummaging through American cities in search of a black person who’s not offended by the word “nigger,” and then held them up as proof that the word isn’t so bad. ”

Of course this controversy has stirred up some of people’s best, worst, and most comedic instincts. Design company 99 Designs ran a contest to redesign the team’s logo with three name suggestions: Griffins, Warriors, and Renegades. They received 1,887 submissions in one week. PETA shamelessly stole an idea from a Tony Kornheiser column in 1992 and suggested that the team keep their name but change their logo to the potato of the same name. The Onion put its stamp on the issue with a fictional quote: “We’ve heard the concerns of many people who have been hurt or offended by the team’s previous name, and I’m happy to say we’ve now rectified the situation once and for all,” said franchise owner Dan Snyder, adding that “Washington Redskins” will be replaced with “D.C. Redskins” on all team logos, uniforms, and apparel.”

One common reaction to the controversy from many writers, bloggers, and podcasters has been to stop using the name Washington Redskins and instead go with the awkward “Washington Professional Football team” or the euphemistic “‘skins.” This seems as likely to help the team avoid the issue as it does to force them to change it. At Dear Sports Fan we’re going to keep using the name Washington Redskins until the team changes it, which we hope they do soon. Of all cities, the capital of the United States should be the most careful when it comes to team names that send racist or violent messages. Dan Snyder should emulate the former owner of the professional basketball franchise in Washington D.C., Abe Pollin, who got rid of the name “Bullets’ because of his feelings about gun violence.

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