It’s seems that everyone from Bob Costas to President Obama has weighed in on the Washington Redskins naming controversy. Still, there are those who wonder, “What’s the big deal? Is this just political correctness run amok?” There are also those who feel the truly offensive part of the team name is “Washington.”
I’m going to look at the controversy from a different angle. When it comes to team names, “Redskins” fails.
A team name should do three things: Project an image of strength and confidence, instill fear in its opponents, and show a connection to its community or its team’s history. Of the high schools in our community, the Laguna Hills High School Hawks do this the best. Hawks are powerful birds, they instill fear in any creature they consider a satisfying lunch, and they are indigenous to our area. You can see actual hawks fly over Laguna Hills High School. (Just don’t standard underneath when they finish digesting their victims.)
What about the Redskins?
Does the word “Redskins” project an image of strength and power? Of course not. It’s a stereotype! Do Stepin Fetchit and the Frito Bandito project strength, confidence, and power? The purpose of a stereotype as denigrating as “Redskins” is to show people as less than human, to make them seem weak or foolish, and to give license to persecute or destroy them easily and without guilt or consequence. As an image of strength and power, “Redskins” clearly fails.
What about inspiring fear? Watch enough Westerns from the early twentieth century, and whooping, tomahawk wielding “injuns” look like a terrifying foe. That’s until John Wayne whips out his trusty Winchester rifle that can knock several of them off their horses with a single shot.
If you look at American history, you’ll see that Native Americans had more to fear from us than we had to fear from them. We’re the ones who wiped them out with diseases, pushed them off their lands, and penned them into reservations to be doomed to lives of poverty. Rather than fear, “Redskins” instills images that are too heartbreaking for sports.
The most damning part of the “Redskins” name is its history.
The Redskins were founded in Boston by George Marshall. He named the team “Redskins” to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team, which was also in Boston at the time. He kept the name when he moved the team to Washington, D.C.
Marshall was a notorious racist. He refused to let African Americans on his team even after other NFL teams integrated. He said, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” He only started signing African American players when forced to by the Federal government. His racism continued even after his death. According to Mark Newgent on examiner.com, “In his will Marshall left a considerable endowment to fund a charity dedicated to helping underprivileged children in the Washington area. The document however, contained a provision that stipulated no money was to be used to help minority children.”
With all these factors in mind, why would any Washington football fan want to root for a team called the “Redskins”? It’s a slur that projects humiliation, not strength. It’s a stereotype that instills scorn, not fear. It’s a name with a shameful history that no one can celebrate. Washington football fans need a team name they can be proud of, not apologize for. Considering the embarrassment that city has gone through the past few weeks, Washington fans could use something to be proud of right now.