The name “Redskins” has been controversial for a lot longer than just the past couple months, but the pressure to change the name has gotten more intense in the last few weeks, culminating in the introduction of a bill in Congress compelling the team to adopt a new nickname.
Let’s leave aside the appropriateness of lawmakers intervening in pro sports in general and in this issue in particular and tackle the various arguments being advanced (I know the phrases “Redskins” and “tackle” don’t go together that well this season, but we’ll try).
Here’s a breakdown of the pro and con arguments on each of the major issues that appear to have come up.
1. The name is not actually offensive or isn’t offensive to all Native Americans.
OK, saying the name is not actually offensive or, as I’ve also heard, actually honors Native Americans is complete bullshit. “Redskin” is an ethnic slur on a par with “greaseball” for Italians or “Spic” for Hispanics. I’m specifically leaving the n-word out of this discussion because that word occupies a special shameful place in American history that “Redskin” doesn’t.
But “Redskin” historically is a clearly dehumanizing term used to refer to Native Americans. It’s patently offensive. No one would accept a team called the Miami Spics or the San Francisco Chinks. This is just like that.
The related argument that the name isn’t offensive to all Native Americans is less specious but also less relevant. First off, there’s some question about the authenticity of the “Native American” representatives who’ve been trotted out to defend the name and say it is not offensive, but even if their bona fides are legit, the name doesn’t need to only be offensive to Native Americans, it should be offensive to ALL Americans. I’m offended by racial slurs against Black, Hispanic or Asian people even though I am not any of those things.
The intent behind the slur – to suggest that some group of people are worthy of derision or scorn simply because they are members of that group – is what is offensive.
2. Changing the name will cost the team money.
Well (a) who cares lots of things cost teams money and (b) this is completely untrue. Picking a new team name and logo will provide its own financial reward as you can expect tons of fans to buy the new jerseys and other gear.
Similarly, upon news that the team name is changing, I’m sure the Washington franchise will have the foresight to load up on the old “Redskins” jerseys and gear so fans can overbuy that stuff before it goes away. Seriously, the change will make the team money.
3. If you change this name, you’ll have to change other names too.
This slippery slope argument suggests that if you change “Redskins” you might have to change “Vikings” to avoid offending Norsemen or change “Jets” to avoid offending aficionados of propeller planes.
Well, the thing about slippery slope arguments is that they’re just that. “Viking” is not an offensive term like “Redskin.” Neither is “Dolphin,” “Texan,” “49er” or “Patriot.” None of those terms are racially charged. You don’t have to change a team name just because “anyone” might be offended. That’s not the argument for changing “Redskin.”
The argument is borne of the racially charged nature of the term. It’s why you would never accept the “Atlanta Klansmen” as a team name. It’s also why there’s a bill to change “Redskins” but no bill to change “Indians” or “Braves”, even though some people oppose those names also.
4. The fans don’t want it.
No argument here, the fans don’t want it. The fans will get over it.
In the past, fans didn’t want black baseball players or women reporters in locker rooms, but they got over it. Fans still don’t want the NFL’s idiotic TV blackout rule, but they still watch. No one is going to stop rooting for their favorite team just because the name changes.
If anything, current ownership’s opposition to the change might actually rally more fans to support the team if they’re compelled to adopt a new name.
5. It’s just a stupid football team, who gives a flying f**k.
Well, if the argument is that Congress shouldn’t be worried about this, I tend to agree. Congress should be locked in a room without food, water or bathrooms until they find a way to extend the budget and debt ceiling agreement longer than 3 months.
But forget Congress. Should we care about whether a team name is offensive, and the answer is we have to. Football and the other pro sports are iconic institutions of American life. We have a right to expect institutions of society to reflect society’s values, and seriously, since when is the right to define a race of people by the color of their skin (RED-SKIN. Get it?) a societal value. I’m not overly sensitive about this issue.
If Dan Snyder changed the team to the Washington Americans but kept the profile of the chief with the headdress on the helmet, I’d be fine with that. That really would lend itself to claiming that its honoring the heritage of Native Americans (even though some people would still find that image offensive).
The offensive nature of the term “Redskin” is a unique situation which calls for action. It’s time to pick a new name and sell some new jerseys. Dan Snyder has run the Redskins into the ground while he’s owned them. Fans should find THAT offensive. If he changes the team name, he should be supported.