Hail to the _________

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Football, Multiculturalism/Social Justice, News

For as long as I can remember, the Washington Redskins have been under fire for the organization’s refusal to change its name. One of several nationally-recognized sports franchises to use a Native American pseudonym for its name, being placed in the heart of this nation’s politics makes it a high target for social justice advocacy groups.

I am a proud supporter of the team, its history and its future, but I am also deeply troubled by the name. The word is derogatory. It negatively classifies a selection of our population in the same way as the n-word or other stereotype and discriminatory slang. No amount of symbolism that gets thrown into the mix can hide the fact that the word is not one synonymous with anything appropriate.

Dan Snyder is probably one of the most hated owners in all of professional sports but he continues to find ways to get more and more people angry and upset with him. He is not the only only to receive a name change pressure but he has public said, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER β€” you can use caps.” Besides the concepts of tradition and history, may question isΒ why not?

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In comparison to the Redskins drama, you can look at examples of other Native American-based teams and how they have handled the controversy. The Florida State Seminoles met with their counterpart tribe and were able to come to a mutual agreement over the use of the tribe’s name and likeness in their festivities related to the campus and its sports. This is a situation where the tribe provide the acceptance for the use of their name. The Redskins cannot make the same case. There is no Redskins tribe. It is just a derogatory name used to classify all Native Americans. There is no one available to get approval from.

The Golden State Warriors used to use Native American imagery in their promotions but were pressured enough in 1971 to remove the Native American influence and switch to something representing the state of California. The Atlanta Braves eliminated the human imagery with their logos but retained the tomahawk chop cheer and image of the tomahawk on their uniforms. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians eliminated some of their imagery but retained some logos on parts of their uniforms, as well as the names. The Washington Redskins have no ability to just change the image (which they tried once before with the spear) because it is still the name that is the main focus. The Indians and the Blackhawks still have some work left to do as well.

There is a part of me that wants to get behind Snyder (*cough*) and VP Karl Swanson and say that you can change the meaning of the word to something more sacred and acceptable, like courage, dignity and leadership. Part of me wants to fall back on the concept of history and tradition. But the reality is that it is not up to me to decide this. In the same way that other populations have chosen which words offend them and which can be reclaimed in positive ways, I to have to respect the Native American population’s right make the choice for themselves. If they deem the name to be racist, then it is racist and needs to be changed.

But still, there is one other problem…what do you change it to? I think the biggest challenge in this fight and why it has been so difficult for the organization to accept their role in continuing to discriminate against a selection of our population is the fact that they have not exerted the energy to and no one has provided a compelling name for the team to be changed to. Unfortunately, a number of great names have already been taken that would be perfect for a team in the nation’s capital (Eagles, Patriots, Nationals, Capitals). Using a name like the Senators would fall flat with the public’s distrust of Congress’s ability to get things done. Maybe these are possibilities…

  • Skins: The abbreviation of the current name may just be a little too ridiculous to justify, though.
  • Warriors: Snyder already trademarked the image for another team but used it in 2002.
  • Braves: Similar to the baseball team, there would have to be a sense of care for the imagery used but this could be one of the best options.
  • Federals: This is just too hokey with the Capitals and Nationals already around…though at least it’s not the Wizards.
  • Natives: This could be similar to the Warriors and Braves but lacks the catchy-ness needed to rally a fan base.
  • Hogs/Warthogs: Another nickname for the current team, it would be a shift but I also don’t think people would get on-board with making this the featured name.

It probably comes down to the Warriors or the Braves, which could both keep the colors and most of the imagery but make the biggest change needed (the name). The Braves would pay tribute to the original Boston Braves. The Warriors could also take on more of a tribute to the military, which the NFL has a great affinity for. The colors could remain and be representative of the army and marines, while the logo could be altered to include elements of all branches. My vote would be for one of those two.

Check out this other commentary if you are interested in reading more about this issue.

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