Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder needs to realize at some point that the derogatory mascot and name of his prized National Football League team is going to have to change. Frankly, I am surprised it hasn’t been changed already.
The Washington Redskins name/mascot has always seemed to carry some controversy with it and, from time to time, that controversy boils over. Yet no change is ever made. Now, it’s time.
Fifty U.S. senators seem to think so. Last week, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell received a letter signed by 50 senators urging the league endorse a name change for the Washington Redskins. The letter comes on the heels of the National Basketball Association’s swift and strong action in banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after he made racist remarks that were caught on tape.
“The N.F.L. can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter to Goodell states. “We urge the N.F.L. to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”
While the urging of 50 U.S. senators is a big deal, so far it’s fallen on deaf ears. Snyder has said in the past that he simply will not budge on a name change.
“We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder told USA Today last year. “As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season.”
Just in case you didn’t quite understand how strongly he feels about it, he said it again. “We’ll never change the name,” Snyder said. “It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
While Snyder’s statement was made over a year ago, it seems little has changed in the football team’s front office. In response to the senators’ letter, team President Bruce Allen sent a letter to Senator Harry Reid on Friday further explaining the team’s refusal to any sort of name change, in essence, turning the argument around by saying the demand to rename the Redskins is basically a demand that doesn’t support Native Americans. As Allen summed it up in his letter to Reid, “More than a decade ago one of the foremost scholars of Native American languages, Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard, spent seven months researching the subject and concluded that the word ‘redskin’ originated as a Native American expression of solidarity by multi-tribal delegations that traveled to Washington to negotiate Native American national policies.”
He went on to lay out some “facts” for Reid, citing a survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania finding 90 percent of its Native American participants said the name was not offensive. Allen said a national survey conducted by the Associated Press reported 83 percent of Americans are in favor of keeping the Redskins name.
The icing on the cake came in his closing, where Allen stated, “We hope you will join us; Native Americans deserve our support.”
What? It’s one of the most ludicrous statements I’ve ever heard. Coming from a city that prides itself on a good, old-fashioned spin, this is some of the worst spin I’ve ever heard. Is Allen really telling us to support Native Americans by demanding that the Washington Redskins keep its name? What a crackpot.
Allen defends the team’s ownership by saying that a majority of Native Americans and Americans support the name as is. Now, I am not sure if the facts of his letter are accurate or not, but I do believe that Americans are, overall, desensitized with the use of the word redskins. Whether we like it or not, the Washington Redskins is a household name in the world of sports. Does that make it right? No. I think if people take a minute, pause, and simply think about what images the word redskins conjures up, most would agree that it is disrespectful.
While Allen may believe that a majority of Native Americans have no problem with the name, there are, in fact, a number of tribes that do have a problem with the name. And if there are people who believe the name is disrespectful, that name should be changed. It’s as simple as that.
Make no mistake, there are Native Americans who remain outraged that the N.F.L. and the team’s owners refuse a name change. The Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians have dedicated themselves to the removal of the Redskins name at changethemascot.org. Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter recently thanked the 50 senators for stepping up to fight the insulting name.
“Washington team owner Dan Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have claimed that using the R-word epithet somehow honors Native peoples, but it is quite the opposite,” said Halbritter. “The R-word is a dictionary defined racial slur, which likely explains why avowed segregationist George Preston Marshall decided to use the term as the team’s name. Continuing an infamous segregationist’s legacy by promoting such a slur is not an honor, as Mr. Snyder and Mr. Goodell claim. It is a malicious insult. That is why leaders in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, in the White House, and at all levels of government across the country are uniting in opposition to this offensive and hurtful name.”
For the Oneida Indian Nation and a list of other Indian Nations, the word Redskins is a big deal. It’s offensive, and it should be fought like it’s a big deal. For Snyder, Allen and the rest of the team’s owners, a possible name change is a big deal, although I’m not so sure why. Snyder believes his football team has a great football tradition and history, and the Redskins name is a part of that history.
I would contend that the team’s history pales in comparison to the history of Native Americans nationwide. Snyder should realize this, make an immediate name change and sell some new logo T-Shirts while he’s at it. Believe me, the change will come at some point. Why not now? And if not now, maybe now is the time to end the N.F.L’s tax-exempt status for a while?