“Redskins” Apologetics Getting Strained

Washington RedskinsAs you probably know, the Washington Redskins have been at the center of a controversy over their name. Many people say that the name is offensive but the owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, refuses to change the name. I’ve been thinking about the issue. It occurs to me that the term “redskin” is like one of my favorite joke words, “darky.” The word “darky” was once a deeply offensive term but no one uses it as an insult anymore. So I use it to lampoon modern people, calling them both racist and stuck in the past at the same time.

I think the same thing is going on with “redskin.” It isn’t a term that people use to insult Native Americans anymore. But it used to be, and even in my lifetime. I think this clarifies the issue. No one would think it was alright to have a football team named the Washington Darkies. But people continue to try to make the case for Redskins.

Rick Reilly wrote a curious article over at ESPN, Have the People Spoken? It is one of those Thomas Friedman kind of columns, “I talked to a cab driver and he agrees with me so that settles it!” In Reilly’s case, he talked to a Native American (his father-in-law, Bob Burns) and he didn’t have a problem with the name. Even worse, he talked to people at a couple from high schools with the redskins name that are majority Native American. And they said the kids loved the name. Case closed!

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I suspect this is what I refer to as “Why does mom get to call you that?” Conservatives often get upset that minority groups get to use derogatory terms for themselves that whites cannot use. But that’s just the way it is. And if the kids at Wellpinit High School, with its 91.2% Native American student body, like the name “Redskins” it might be because of its offensiveness, not despite it.

On Friday, Dave Zirin reported on another problem with Reilly’s article, Blackfeet Elder Refuses to Be Son-in-Law Rick Reilly’s “Uncle Tom.” It seems that his father-in-law didn’t say what Reilly thought he said. He does find the redskins name offensive. Of course, we didn’t need to get confirmation of that. The whole argument is just so much, “All Indians walk in single file! At least the only one I ever saw did.”

Zirin focuses on how those who want to protect the name seem to hear only what they want to hear. I’m sure the Redskins name’s days are numbered. But it brings up a broader issue in team naming: is it really okay to have any team names that refer to Native Americans in a league that is overwhelmingly owned by white men? These are men who continue to prosper because of white privilege and the large scale theft and genocide of the Native Americans who made the mistake of once owning this land. I’m not at all sure it is acceptable to even have names like “Indians,” much less what seems to me to be the even more offensive “Cherokees.” Time will work this out I suppose.


I mentioned the Cherokees because based upon my (admittedly limited) knowledge, no other tribe worked so hard to get along with the United States government and do things according to their social norms. The Cherokee Nation repeatedly took different parts of the US government to court. This happened most notably in Worcester v. Georgia where the Supreme Court found more or less that tribes were independent and that Georgia couldn’t pass laws limiting how the Nation ruled its own land. President Jackson notably refused to enforce the ruling. The point is that all the talk of the rule of law and all that stuff is bullshit. What was done to the Native peoples was racism pure and simple.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on ““Redskins” Apologetics Getting Strained

  1. I’m a baseball lover, and the sight of Atlanta fans doing their "tomahawk chop" thing makes me cringe. Mind you, the Braves have one of the less offensive monikers. The "redskins" label is beyond horrible. The Cleveland "indians" have the foulest logo, ever.

    For those claiming these things are a tribute to a noble, defeated people, I’d ask: would you be comfortable, if Germany had won the war, with a soccer team called the "Dusseldorf Crafty Jews"?

    Americans murdered the natives, for profit. (Pretty much everyone else has done the same, either locally or in colonies, but that doesn’t justify it.) Jeffrey Amherst, who deliberately distributed blankets laden with smallpox, has his name on a college. Custer has his name on everything imaginable.

    The NCAA, a hideous and corrupt organization if ever there was one, has adopted a policy of banning native-associated racial slur nicknames unless the local tribes agree that the names aren’t offensive. To my knowledge, only the Seminoles in Florida have agreed to let the nickname stand.

    The NFL Washington team’s despicable nickname isn’t going away anytime soon. The NFL is the 800-pound gorilla in the room of professional sports. They can settle class-action suits about concussions by bribing plaintiffs desperate for medical cash. They could change the name of the Washington team tomorrow to "Potomacs" or "Founders" or whatever and the team wouldn’t lose a dime; in fact they’d make money from new apparel sales. (I suspect Washington NFL fans would have an easier time with a name change than yahoos across America.)

    But then the league would lose a shade of its’ rep as the roughest, toughest bully around, one that doesn’t give a shit if it destroys players or celebrates genocide.

    When I moved to Minnesota, I made the mistake of learning about football. I’d go into bars and try and strike up conversations about the middle linebackers. People looked at me as if I was crazy. It’s "go, team, kill" and that’s that. (Baseball fans, you can have conversations about middle relievers with.)

    Part of, if not all of, the NFL’s brand identity is that it is vicious, cruel, and senselessly violent. AKA, the all-American game. Giving up the "redskins" name would be a sop to wimps who actually think that if someone named "Robert" asks you politely and repeatedly to stop calling him "Faggot Bob," you shouldn’t stomp on his face with your tailgating buddies and laugh at the blood. (I’m not an NFL fan, as much as I respect the athletes. Does it show?)

    Zirin can stretch it at times, making the relevance of sports to the wider political world more of a thing than it is. (Hey, he’s gotta pay the rent, like any of us.) On this issue, he’s 100% right. Here’s a good one: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9376010/rename-washington-redskins

    Random thought: compare a photo of young Joe McCarthy to Ted Cruz. You’ll believe vampires do exist . . .

  2. @JMF – I had to look up the Cleveland logo. Yikes! I originally started this article with an explanation of why I like baseball but hate football. In fact, I think that was the original purpose of the article, but I got sidetracked.

    [i]The Onion[/i] put out a [url=http://www.theonion.com/articles/most-offensive-team-names,34170/]great list[/url] of team names that are more offensive than Redskins:

    Des Moines Schutzstaffel
    San Antonio Late-Term Abortions
    Boston Irish Fucks
    Lexington Lynch Mob
    Seattle Slave Traders
    Phoenix Child Pornographers
    Atlanta Jim Crows
    Birmingham Whites Only
    The Jerry Sandusky Football Camp All-Stars
    San Diego Rectal Prolapse
    Detroit Black Guys Bred To Be Superior Athletes
    Jacksonville Jaguars
    San Francisco Ching-Chongs

    I think you are right about why they don’t change the name: they can’t look weak. Of course, if Daniel Snyder wanted it changed, it would be changed. He’s a sad little billionaire.

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