In the last two years, a hot topic in the sports world and in mainstream society has been whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. I would say no.
Now there’s no way of getting around it; the term “Redskin” was once a slur toward Native Americans and had a negative connotation to it. The term has been out of use since the 1960s except as team names. It is considered taboo to use in modern society where we are supposedly over bigotry. It has been debated whether or not the term was initially intended for all Native Americans or just tribes who used red face paint. The majority of people today consider it a racial epithet but others feel the term has become harmless.
Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has long been an outspoken owner. Recently, while some schools and colleges have bowed to pressure to change their team names, he has held a very public stand against a name change. He has immense pressure on him to change the team name. He has put up a firm resistance, arguing that the team’s first coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, was a Native American and the team was named to honor his heritage. He has also pointed out that Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, helped design and approve the team’s logo. “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps,” he told USA Today.
But Snyder has also made some statements that have hurt his case. Among other things, he once claimed something along the lines of “We have this name out of respect for Native Americans,” which angered many Native American groups who equate the term “Redskins” with the N-word. The Washington Redskins trademark was pulled by some self-righteous government officials who must’ve thought they were going to be received as heroes or something. President Obama, a sports enthusiast, butted in with his two cents, saying “I would think about changing the name.” He was quick to back off, though, by reconfirming he isn’t a team owner and has no stake in the matter. There have been boycotts and protests for several years now. It hurts Redskins’ sales that their licensing isn’t exclusive. Lots of papers refuse to print the name anymore.
Other individuals and groups have taken their own stands on smaller scales. Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania also has sports teams called Redskins. The school paper has refused to print the term. Eventually, the principal and School Committee applied tremendous pressure to have them use the name. Suspensions were doled out, including to a former Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year who backed the students. In my opinion everyone involved in the school skirmish came out looking foolish. I mean come on, it’s your school’s mascot. The team members probably don’t make fun of Native Americans; your district didn’t choose the name to slight them; and a lot of members at your school are probably indifferent. So just because one might have a personal problem with it isn’t a reason for this whole clash to occur. However, the school administrators looked juvenile in their handling of the matter, using threats and constantly complaining.
A lot of college teams have faced similar problems. North Dakota, infamous for the mascot “Sioux,” had to change its name or the NCAA would ban them from postseason play. Other schools have had to do similar things. Yet the Florida State Seminoles and Central Michigan Chippewas use their mascot names with support from the tribes themselves.
Recently, the Comedy Central TV show South Park made a huge mockery of the Redskins football organization. In an episode where Cartman and his friends want to start a company, they end up with the name Washington Redskins because their trademark had been pulled. Dan Snyder throws a conniption after they start to soil the Redskins name, which leads Cartman to deliver the line, “We use the name out of respect for your organization and all you’ve done.” It did a good job mocking the Redskins and presented some reasons why the name is a problem.
But back to real life. The key word is indifference. All these sanctimonious people who are making this big stink are under the impression that it matters. In reality, it appears Native Americans and sports fans alike wish they’d just go away. Dan Snyder made a huger power move recently when the president of Navajo Nation, a powerful tribe based out west, sat with him in his private box at a Redskins home game. A 2013 Associated Press-GfK poll showed that “Redskins” still enjoys widespread support nationally. Nearly four in five Americans don’t think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent weren’t sure and 2 percent didn’t answer. In a current ESPN Sportsnation poll, 71 percent of fans support the team keeping its name. A couple of Native American high schools proudly have “Redskins” as their mascot. So who do these people think they’re helping? What do Native Americans gain out of a name change? Not much, maybe some self pride but nothing palpable to counter the poverty, alcoholism and other issues plaguing tribes across the country. Native Americans have bigger fish to fry then a pro sports team in which as whole they are divided on.
As a Hanover High School Student, I am proud to have “Indians” as our mascot. I remember a time when the rumor around town was were going to become the “Skyhawks” and I’m glad we didn’t. I don’t care if it is politically correct to say Native American. Hanover as a town doesn’t use the term Indians as a slight or stereotype in any way. In my opinion, people who go through Hanover are proud to have done so. There is a lot of Indian pride in our town and it would be that way most likely even if the name changed. But there is no need for a change. People in Hanover genuinely like the Indian mascot.
I think the same thing applies to the Washington Redskins fans. Redskins fans are notoriously among the best in the NFL. Especially in the pas,t they were known for being the most wild. They are proud to be Redskins fans. They have worn face paint and headdresses to games to support the teams. They never mean any injustice to Native American heritage and I think a lot of rational people realize this. The Redskins logo is one of the coolest in the NFL. Their fan base doesn’t want their traditions and their pride to be ruined. I think a lot of fans, like a lot of Americans, realize Native Americans have been wronged throughout history. That’s why they don’t support what the term once meant. They are just supporting the team on the field. That’s why there’s no need to change the name. I think American Indians are jumping on this movement because they need something to jump onto, and the Redskins are being made the sacrificial lamb. I believe Dan Snyder will hold strong and I’ll be proud of him. Let me make this clear, if Hanover ever tries to change their mascot for a similar reason, you’ll find my name atop the petition against it. There’s just no need for change when it’s not a problem.