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Washington needs to change their name

By: Nick Johns

Washington protest

Caution: Some Language and Team Names may be Offensive to Readers

Hello! Welcome to the triumphant return of Down Goes Frazier. It’s been a while. How have you been?
So for those of you who may not remember, Down Goes Frazier is a column in which I am supposed to discuss the historical significance of specific moments in sports but really I just talk about whatever I want that is sports related and affects society outside of sports. So what is a good, socially relevant topic in sports right now that affects society outside of sports? Hmmm… Got it! The controversy surrounding the Washington football team’s name. A word of warning, to illustrate my point I will reference other racial slurs as a basis for comparison. These terms are all painted as negative terms that should not be used.

For the record, SoMuchSports.com has a policy of only referring to the team as “the Washington football team” unless specifically discussing the name controversy, and I completely support this decision. In fact, I’m going to tell you why right now.

“Redskin” is a culturally insensitive word. If you met somebody who introduced themselves and told you they’re Navajo would you say “oh, so you’re a redskin, eh?”? No, you wouldn’t, because deep down you know it may offend them. So why are people okay with the Washington football team using the name? The team and fans have provided a lot of explanations, but all of them stand on shaky foundations. I’m going to address each of them now.

“The team was named ‘The Redskins’ in honor of the team’s coach at the time.”

There are entirely too many things wrong with this statement.

First, the coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz, was hired in the same offseason as the team’s name was changed. The claim is that the name was chosen out of respect for Dietz, but it’s difficult to believe that the team had such tremendous admiration and respect for a coach who had yet to actually coach a game.

Second, even if the team owner George Preston Marshall did want to honor Dietz, this was not the only factor that led to the name being chosen. Originally, the team that would eventually become the Redskins was based in Boston and called the Boston Braves. At the time there was also a baseball team named the Boston Braves (which would eventually become the Atlanta Braves) that shared a stadium, Braves Field, with the Braves of football. The intention was to create a sense of continuity between the two teams. This isn’t an unusual practice. Before moving to San Francisco the MLB’s Giants were based in New York, along with the New York Giants of the NFL. Before moving to Arizona, the Cardinals of football were based in St. Louis along with the baseball Cardinals. Even now, in my home town of Baltimore, we have “The Birds of Baltimore” with the Orioles and Ravens. After a lease dispute, the Boston football Braves moved from Braves Field to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, in 1933. Wanting to create a sense of continuity with the Red Sox but also keep the team’s uniforms, which featured a logo similar to that of today’s team, Marshall went with “the Redskins.”

Third, Dietz was in fact not Native American. He claimed to be half Cherokee, but in 1918 an FBI investigation uncovered that Dietz had in fact lied about his heritage in order to gain an exemption from military service. It was discovered that Dietz had assumed the identity of another man who had disappeared in 1894. Dietz eventually served a jail sentence in 1919 for falsifying his records. It was proven in a court of law that Dietz was not actually Native American 14 years before the team’s name was changed.

“The term ‘Redskin’ was used as a term of endearment for Dietz.”

Here’s the thing with that claim. It may have been a term of endearment 81 years ago when the team was named, but the meaning of terms such as that change over time. Especially over that long of a span. In the 1950s the politically correct term for an African American person was “Negro.” That was the preferred term, yet we don’t use it anymore. Shifting social sensitivities and changing connotations has led to that term becoming offensive. Similarly, the word “Retard” was once the clinical name for a mentally challenged person, and “Cripple” was once a politically correct term for someone with a physical disability. In the reverse, “Queer” was once a pejorative name for homosexuals but has since been reappropriated by the LGBTQ community (that’s what the Q stands for) and many universities offer classes on “queer studies.” I challenge you to find a term referring to a specific minority group that had positive connotations in 1933 that has not since become a slur. Come on Dan Snyder, get with the times.

“We are honoring the achievements of Native Americans and their brave warrior traditions.”

Shut up, not you’re not. China has a long list of cultural achievements and a fierce warrior tradition, but we don’t cheer for the “Grand Rapids Chinamen.” After all, “Chinamen” was a culturally accepted term in the 1930s and references a group of people with many great achievements and a brave warrior tradition; the two should be equally valid.

“Most Native Americans don’t mind the name.”

This is a questionable claim. There have not been many surveys conducted on this issue. The most well-known and often-referenced survey that shows that Native Americans do not mind the name has some major issues. Primarily, the survey does not take into account what tribe the respondents belong to, whether they live on a reservation or not, whether they are full-blooded Native Americans or of mixed heritage, or whether they are active in their tribal community or not. Respondents simply needed to self-identify as being Native American. These responses do not necessarily represent the opinions of active members of Native American tribes.

The Washington football team has claimed that people in the organization have gone and met personally with Native American leaders to get their opinions, and those leaders have approved of the name. In fact, during the recent Washington/Arizona Cardinals game, Dan Snyder hosted Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly in his private box to watch the game with him. The part they left out was that Shelly recently lost in the nation’s primary election in large part due to his support of the team’s name and his work with the team’s token “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” The Nation’s council however has voted for the Navajo Nation to officially oppose the team’s name.

“Several high schools on Native American Reservations use ‘Redskins’ as their school mascot.”

The counter I always hear to this is that Native Americans equate it with the use of a certain word in the African American community: It’s a word members of the community can use, but those who aren’t a member can’t. Several high schools and colleges that are not affiliated with a Native American Reservation that have used Native Americans as a mascot have changed their team names in response to protests by Native American groups, legal action, or just in the name of tolerance.

“The name and team have a long tradition with a fan base that loves and embraces the name.”

The Washington Bullets did too, but they changed their name to the Wizards because the Bullets name had a violent connotation. The Washington football team should take a page out of the Wizards playbook (not literally, especially since dunking over the goal post became a penalty) and change their name to something more positive.

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The truth is, Dan Snyder won’t change his team’s name until somebody forces him to or he starts loosing too much money over it (Editorial note: he should do it now because having a new team name is about the only reason anybody would have for buying the team’s jerseys. They certainly aren’t buying them because Washington is a good football team) (Second editorial note: I’m proclaiming RGIII to be a bust. He has a reckless playing style that has led to several injuries and he has regressed each season). Hopefully the day that Dan Snyder has no choice but to change the team’s name will come sooner than later, but until then the NFL and America should realize that having a professional sports team with a racially offensive name is nothing short of shameful.

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