I’ve been a fan of the Washington Redskins since I was a child. One of my first memories was Super Bowl VII, huddled around a small black and white television in our home in suburban Virginia. I was in high school and college during the championship years of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs and believed it was my birthright for my team to win the division.
As an adult, I had season tickets for a couple of years until the misery associated with 10-hour Sundays got too much to bear. I understand the feeling of camaraderie with fellow fans and the euphoria when the team wins the big game.
But that euphoria doesn’t justify institutional racism.
Being one-eighth native American, I’ve long wrestled with whether my affinity for the team should override the plain wrongness of its nickname. It should not.
The Washington Redskins should change their name.
There are no winners in this game. The defenders are too busy crying “political correctness” to see the big picture, the team is too busy defending its perceived rights, and those that are truly offended suffer in silence as they have since colonial times.
There are three reasons it’s beyond time for the team to change its name:
The term “Redskin” is demeaning and pejorative: The origin of the term is immaterial. The term was used as a pejorative for many decades and, according to the literal definition in the dictionary, still is.
It doesn’t matter if you or I are offended by the word or not. It doesn’t matter if a majority of people aren’t offended or if you use the term solely to describe the NFL team. It only matters that there is a segment of Americans who are demeaned by the term’s use.
Because so many people use a word that was once demeaning and pejorative in a manner that they claim is not, that term has now been accepted to have taken that second meaning.
That’s the very definition of institutional racism.
History shows how native American people have been systematically oppressed almost to the point of extinction. No amount of public relations fluffery can mitigate the damage that continues in the name of “team pride.”
The term “Washington Redskins” now represents embarrassment: The first thing mentioned when one identifies themselves as a fan of the team is the name debate. The second is the other person’s opinion of owner Daniel Snyder. Maybe the third has to do with football.
This is how the Washington Redskins are now perceived: as a joke, punchline or embarrassment.
Not with words like “pride” or “history,” as the team’s promotion material so ardently implores. The ideals that the team claims the name represents are rendered an afterthought.
Last week’s episodes of “South Park” and “The Daily Show” heaped even more derision toward the team and supporters of the nickname.
The team will continue to make money regardless of the outcome: The team has been subject to several lawsuits and so far has come out on top. Maybe that fuels the hubris within the organization with regard to the name change. But it faces more challenge in the courts, as a recent ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademark, claiming it’s “disparaging to Native Americans.”
Last week, the FCC began deliberations as to whether the term “Redskins” should be banned from television. During the NBA Finals, a two-minute PSA against the nickname appeared, sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. It was moving and poignant – and met with derision by the team and a segment of the fan base.
The Washington Redskins, despite years of futility on the field, are one of the most profitable franchises in the league and will continue to be even if forced to change the name and mascot. Between the massive broadcast contracts, merchandise sales, stadium and parking concessions, and overwhelming dominance in the D.C. market, the team will continue to thrive regardless of what it is called.
Despite their adamant defense of its trademarks and wordmarks, the team stands to heavily profit from a name change when the eventuality finally presents itself. It is only due to the hubris of its ownership that the team still fights so fervently against public opinion and governmental interjection.
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