In a world where racial labels are tossed around like a Caesar salad, the owner of the Washington National Football League (NFL) franchise is catching fire for a term that offends a race known for its history of oppression: the Native Americans.
If you pay any attention to sports or even watch a small sliver of news, you’ll know that the owner of the Washington Redskins, Daniel Snyder, is facing enormous tension from the Native Americans and mainstream media for continuing to use the nickname “Redskins.”
The term “redskin”, in its original form, was derived from the use of red as a color metaphor for the Native American race after the Europeans colonized the United States.
For years, it wasn’t considered a big deal to have a sports team using a Native American nickname (ex. Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians are professional sports franchises who still employ these types of names).
But in a time where terms such as “nigger” or “wetback” (Hispanic slang) are considered taboo, the “redskin” among other Indian names, is drawing negative remarks from all across the globe.
Amongst the groups who take offense to the use of “Redskins” are: the Onieda Indian Nation (who are meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in November to discuss their thoughts on forcing a name change); ESPN Sports Network (who only refer to the team as ‘the Washington football franchise’), and even President Barack Obama.
Do I personally find it offensive? As a black person, I say no. The name has no sentimental value whatsoever, and honestly, until I started reading all the buzz surrounding this issue, it didn’t cross my mind.
Then I looked back at the history of the team, and it started to make sense.
This controversy dates all the way back to the Kennedy administration. The team’s founding owner, George Preston Marshall, was a well-known racist.
Despite pressure from civil rights groups and fans throughout the 1940s and 50s, he outright refused to integrate African American players (or any other races) into his team.
It wasn’t until 1961, when Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall threatened federal retribution, that Marshall started to listen.
Then, an even bigger obstacle in his way came in the form of a pending civil rights legal motion by the Kennedy administration. This would’ve prevented the team from playing in the new D.C. Stadium, which was owned by the Department of Defense, and therefore was government property.
In 1962, Marshall finally relented, and in the spring NFL Draft, he drafted Ernie “The Express” Davis with the first overall pick. Later in the draft, he would also select Joe Hernandez and Ron Hatcher.
Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, never played a down in the NFL; he was traded immediately to the Cleveland Browns for Caucasian running back, Bobby Fletcher, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 22.
Hernandez had one catch in 14 games before being released, and Hatcher rode the bench all season. Yet, in the late 1980s, it would be a nearly entirely African American football team (led by quarterback Doug Williams from Grambling State University, a famously all-black school) that lead the team to two Super Bowls in five seasons.
While it may not entirely deal with the issue of offending Native Americans, we can plainly see where the root cause comes from.
We can also see why, after years of ignoring the issue and just pushing it aside, this team, it’s owner and the NFL must take action and reach a compromise on the name change.
It is well known that the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, is Jewish. So you would think he would understand the sensitivity of the issue. Yet, in a May interview with USA Today, he had the following to say:
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
If there ever was a time to be offended, then this would be the time. And I believe that now is the time to voice our concerns and make it happen. Let’s see the NFL make a press release with the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, starting with the 2014 season, the Washington Redskins will be changing their name to the (insert non-offensive name here).”