A Redskin Dilemma

Redskins-TallAs y’all know, we’re headed east. Not to say where in the east, other than “Queenland” (not to be confused with Real-life Queensland, Australia), but I am roughly equidistant from Washington DC and another major metropolitan area. Due to the particulars, we’re going to be more closely “tied” to DC. As far as DMA’s are concerned, we’re DC. The DC airport is closer. We know people in DC, and so on.

I tend to root for the home team, though for DC that’s going to be a problem. For baseball, I am not a big fan of the “Nationals” name and the whole don’t-call-us-the-Senators thing. But whatever, I’ll get over that.

What I am finding is that I am going to have a lot of difficulty rooting for a team called the Redskins. I don’t think I’ll be able to, to be honest.

I’m not 100% dead-set against tribal mascots. I consider it rather context-dependent. And, to be honest, one of the things I get on my soapbox about is the situation in North Dakota and the NCAA’s mishandling of the tribal name situation.

For those who don’t know, the NCAA announced a while back that it was going to start penalizing teams with “offensive” mascots. I was actually somewhat supportive of the move at the time. In the broad strokes, I still am. However, what I thought was going to be a more cooperative “Let’s not be offensive” instead became “Unless you’re Florida State, call yourself the RedHawks (or something like that) going forward.”

Instead of the exception, Florida State should have been the roadmap. The Florida State Seminoles dealt with some early objections by incorporating genuine, rather than goofy misconception – tribal aesthetics and rituals into their theme. If it weren’t for Florida State’s importance, I’m relatively convinced that none of the schools would have gotten a pass. The NCAA wanted to take a really hard line on this, but also didn’t want to go to against Florida State and so the rules were tailored and interpreted to allow Florida State to keep their mascot. (They were also tailored so that it didn’t apply to the Fighting Irish or various Spartan and Trojan teams out there.)

But instead of learning from the Florida State example of cooperation, the NCAA made the road to redemption a lot more difficult than it needed to be. North Dakota, home of the Fighting Sioux, became a case-and-point. There are two dominant Sioux Tribes in North Dakota. One approved, one objected. In my mind, the goal all along should have been to try to get cooperation to prevent mascots from going off the offensive deepend (by, for instance, going by the “Redskins”). Instead, you have Sioux suing the NCAA so that the university can keep the name and the NCAA saying “No, no, it’s offensive. Trust us. Now go away.”

The whole thing cost UND quite dearly. While North Dakota State, South Dakota, and South Dakota State all received invitations to the geographically appropriate Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference, North Dakota’s limbo (the coming sanctions hanging over their head) forced them over to the competitive, but geographically inappropriate, Big Sky Conference. They’ve had lawsuit after lawsuit, legislation passed and then rescinded by later legislation, and they still haven’t come up with a name yet.

I tend to view it as a trademark issue more than anything else. Which is to say that unless a university has the cooperation of a tribe going by a particular name, it’s somewhat dubious of them to go by the name of people who have a moral right to that name. UND had the approval of one of the Sioux tribe, so they should have been able to “license” that right from the tribe. And if they get offensive with what they’re doing, the tribe could then rescind that license. Fostering a cooperative relaitonship. And so on. It would be an opportunity for these schools to provide scholarships, honor traditions (on more than just their say-so), and be a learning experience.

But despite the NCAA’s mishandling of that issue… Redskins? Yeesh. And I’m not sure if it’s right to feel this way when there are at least some polls saying that tribal members themselves don’t object. But… Redskins? Even if some Indians are really unbothered by it, I just have a hard time getting comfortable with it.

Unless they change their mascot from the Indian dude to a potato. If they had a potato mascot, I’d buy their apparel.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


    • I should point out that there is a high school in Idaho that goes by the name Russets. There’s another one called the Mushers, but I have been informed that they were not named after mushed potatoes.

  1. If you are close enough to DC to call them a hometown team, you are likely also close enough to Baltimore and Philadelphia. Choose either of them… the latter only if you want to join me in my misery.

    Reading Wikipedia, it seems that a new case is going forth to challenge the federal trademarks the team currently enjoys, one that is more likely to be successful. Let’s hope that works. It won’t guarantee a name change, but it will make a big dent in the team’s pockets, which is the primary reason Snyder won’t change (First is money, second is stubbornness).

    The trouble even with SD is that, as you note, not all of the Sioux are on board with it. Which is going to happen… you can’t please all of the people all of the time… but as a general rule, it just seems wise to avoid naming a sports team after a racial, ethnic, religious, etc. group.

    • Nor does SD have the permission of the Johnny Cash estate to be the boys called Sioux.

    • Aren’t there subtribal names? Couldn’t they just call them the “Wamalukes” or something like that? Something specific to the part of the tribe that’s not objecting. (yes, I know that everyone will just use Wamaluky Sioux in town…)

  2. Simple. Do what I did in my 7 years in the DC area (as well as most of my friends, all also transplants). Root against the Redskins with every bone of your body. Take pleasure in the fact that you are consciously avoiding becoming part of the second most persistently annoying and obnoxious fan base in the NFL. Then root for whatever team you’ve always preferred rooting for. You will find that you have no shortage of company in this. Knowing where you’re actually moving, I’m guessing there will be more fans of the other team in your area anyhow.

    • Hating the Redskin’s ownership is just so, so easy. So easy just about all R fans hate him. True there will be fans of every team in the DC area.

      You really are close enough to become a Steelers fan. Good working class proletariat types.

        • Only obvious if you live 3000 miles away from the Raiders.

          • Nobody outside the confines of the Peninsula hates the Raiders nearly as much as the Cowboys. After all, the Raiders never tried to claim that they had the allegiance of the whole country.

          • I thought we were talking about obnoxious fanbases. Are there any others that constantly insist that the league and the refs are conspiring against them, or are so thuggish that people are literally afraid to attend home games? I swear, I’ve heard Raider fans on talk shows complaining that the Raider’s schedule is made unfairly hard, when it’s completely determined by a formula a 5-year-old could understand.

  3. Just do what I do….Root for the Packers!
    I really don’t know why anyone would root for a team just because they moved close to them. Boggles the mind.

    • “Root for the Packers!” = +1

      Take your loyalties with you! Unless you’re moving to Philadelphia or Oakland, about all the trouble you’ll get is some trash talk from your neighbors.

      And if you don’t have any particular loyalty, it happens that Green Bay fans can be found everywhere. And as an added bonus, you get to root for the Best Quarterback On The Planet®.

  4. How would you feel about the Washington Jews With More Money Than Brains?

    • Gimme a W!
      Gimme a J!
      Gimme a W!
      Gimme an M!
      Gimme another M!
      Gimme a T!
      Gimme a B!
      Go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o Snyder! And keep on going!

      That cheer might be long enough to make it through a booth review.

      • My aunt attended Chatanooga Central High School, whose teams were called the Purple Pounders. She jokes that by the time the cheerleaders finshed spelling all that out it was halftime.

    • As long as the mascot is not “offensive,” I suppose it’s allowable . . .

  5. I admit to getting confused about this issue. Seems pretty obvious that the name “Redskins” is loaded with negative connotations. Is that the issue? Or is it the use of native American names and terms in general? Is the use of the name “Blackhawks” something I should feel bad about not feeling bad about?

    • I don’t think it’s the words themselves, but the intent which shines behind the action that is determinative in such cases.
      “Redskins” is something that I’m not bothered by, and probably because I grew up with it. Same with the Braves.
      But now that I think about it, the fact that it’s associated with D.C., which has done everything within its power to destroy the Indian for so long, the name being associated with that place is offensive.

      In general, if it’s something that reflects on the cultural heritage of a place, I can accept it as a good thing; and incorporating the name of a tribe falls into that category. Plenty of places named “Coronado” around, when that whole gig led to some horrendous things; still, it’s important from a cultural perspective.
      Intent is more like yelling “Geronimo!” before jumping out of an airplane. That old man is still being remembered for his bravery.
      Intent matters a lot more than any word.

      • I think you might be right, but I tend to shy away from invoking intent on limited evidence. Or even lots of evidence. Intent is useful and meaningful, but also dangerous.

        Seems to me that the majority of people who use the name “Redskins” in a sentence aren’t intentionally disparaging Native Americans. Now, saying that, I’m not opposed to elevating the level awareness surrounding the implications of using that name to include Native Americans who find it insulting. Or, for that matter, white people who find it insulting because NA’s do or for some other reason.

        But the issue gets really murky really quickly. For that argument to go thru – it seems to me, anyway – it’d have to be established that people (including the Redskin’s ownership group) persist in using that name purely or even in part out of deliberate disregard for the views of people who find it insulting or disrespectful. Or in other words: that they’re being intentionally insulting. That’s a hard argument to make. And I’m not at all sure it needs to be made for the oppositions argument to go thru.

        • But you don’t have to try to be insulting in order to be so. If there are First Nations people who find it offensive – and I’ve sure there are – then by continuing to use it the owners etc. are showing deliberate disregard for their opinions. In order to show regard for the views of those who find it insulting, they would have to change the name.

          Whether their primary goal is to insult isn’t the point.

          • But you don’t have to try to be insulting in order to be so.

            Yeah, I agree. That’s why intent sorta falls out of the equation, it seems to me. The issue sorta resolves to whether a good argument can be made that the term “Redskins” is insulting to Native Americans. Given the historical uses of the term, I don’t think that’s hard to do.

          • Whether their primary goal is to insult isn’t the point.

            Agreed on that. I was saying that even an indirect desire to insult isn’t the point, tho. You disagree, and I’m certainly willing to concede that ownership’s rejection of various complaints expresses a level of disregard. What I’m leary of is imputing a desire to be insulting as a result of that. Maybe ownership could be legitimately accused of a desire to not honor the views of people who find the name insulting, tho. But that seems to me like disregard one step removed.

      • it’s also the fact that the longtime owner of the Redskins was a notorious racist who didn’t have black players until congress forced him to.

        • Along with his own personal views, Marshall refused to sign African-American players because of a desire to appeal to Southern markets. For most of his tenure as owner, the Redskins were the southernmost team in the NFL.

          To appeal to “southern markets”? Wikipedia said it, so it must be true!

          • Marshall’s racism is well documented wikipedia was the easiest source i could find.

          • I’m not disputing that, actually. Just that there was another reason which account for his actions. Failing to employ black players on his team seems overdetermined by theory.

            Plus, I wanted to take a backhanded swipe at the view the South isn’t more racist than the North. Pretty petty stuff, actually.

    • Blackhawks to me sounds more like Spartans than Redskins.

    • The argument I’ve heard about even the names being offensive is that they harken back to the idea of either the “noble savage” or “scary foreigner” trope. That is why many native groups object to even supposedly “respectful” names.

      • That they do. You don’t see folks naming their teams the Pollacks.
        (get it? pole-axe?)

      • Isn’t redskins more of a straight-up racial epithet than a simple misguided representation of a legitimate name for a people? Naming your sports team “The Mexicans” would be weird in this day and age (unless the players were all Mexicans, I guess…), but naming it “The Wetbacks” probably wouldn’t fly at all. Even if you meant it in a totally friendly non-racist way.

        • “But we are honoring their resourceful, never-say-die attitude.”

          • They’re evil.

            But the name “Yankee” obviously wasn’t considered pejorative, unless you can somehow picture that George M. Cohan was being ironic.

          • It was, as I understand it, a pejorative for the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam.

          • But meanings change, and by the early 20th century it was completely positive.

            Oh, the irony. That’s the same argument made in defense of Native American mascots…it’s a positive image to us now. Not that I think the Dutch actually give a damn, so I have nothing against the name (just the organization itself). But you are using the same logic as the pro-Native American folks.

          • there is a long history of Yankee being used as a pejorative.

          • There’s on obvious distinction: the people who named the Yankees were themselves Yankees (Americans who lived in the North) and named the team to celebrate themselves and their fans. If there were a team that was named the Indians by Indians I’d have no objection to it.

            “Texan” can be pretty pejorative too, but the Houston NFL team isn’t named after executing 12-year-olds.

          • Nobody really knows the etymology of Yankee. I’ve heard a dozen theories on it. This much seems clear: any time a pejorative term arises, the targets quickly appropriate the term as a reserved word for themselves, e.g. “nigger”. The N Word didn’t start out as a pejorative. Neither did Yankee or Goomba or Kike or Chink or Polack. Chink is particularly interesting, arising from what the Chinese called themselves: Wade-Giles “Chung Kuo”, now spelled as “Zhongguo”. Polack, from “Polak”, straight from Polish, a male Pole. Polka, a female Pole. Kike, from kuykel, Yiddish for a circle, how illiterate people signed their names instead of with a cross, as did other illiterate people. Goomba, cumba, an old gentleman, a term of respect.

            All this feeble-minded outrage over nicknames annoys me. Redskin is what the native people called themselves, to distinguish themselves from white skins.

            It was not until July 22, 1815, that “red skin” first appeared in print, he found — in a news story in the Missouri Gazette on talks between Midwestern Indian tribes and envoys sent by President James Madison to negotiate treaties after the War of 1812.

            The envoys had rebuked the tribes for their reluctance to yield territory claimed by the United States, but the Gazette report suggested that Meskwaki chief Black Thunder was unimpressed: “Restrain your feelings and hear calmly what I say,” he told the envoys. “I have never injured you, and innocence can feel no fear. I turn to all red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me.”

            All this foofaraw about Redskins is so much stuff and nonsense. I wish White People would quit trying to appropriate native American lore into their own mythos but they’ve been doing it for centuries now. It’s always what happens in these circumstances. The Romans defeated the Greeks then started affecting the Greek language and customs and architecture, as if that was what Intelligent People did. The West met up with the native peoples of this continent and went through them like a fire through dry grass. The best we can hope for is to engender a little mutual respect.

          • Mike, the original Yankees were the Dutch. Just because the Americans co-opted the name doesn’t mean it’s OK. Again, that leads to arguments that support the use of Native American mascots (particularly Cherokee!).

          • I can’t agree, James. It’s like saying that no one in the UK is really British except the Welsh. I don’t know who these people are that call themselves “Redskins” or “Cherokee” in non-sports contexts, but “Yankee” has meant “American” since the eighteenth century.

          • I’m confused, Cherokee is what they do call themselves. I think Mike is right about redskins vs Yankees, though. The big difference is whether the target group has embraced the moniker or not. Mixed results on redskins, but only southerners object to being called yankees. (though westerners would be confused, which was how I felt when I found out that some Canadians call All Americans ‘yankees’)

          • The Cherokee call themselves Tsalagi. Outsiders called them Cherokee. The Osage call themselves Niukonska. Their enemies called them Wazhazhe, which the French turned into O-sa-zhe, spelling it Osage. The Americans ran across it and called them “Oh-sage”. All these names come from the outside. If they’ve come to accept the label, perhaps we can start calling ourselves gaijin, which is what the Japanese call us.

          • Point being, I hear Cherokee people call themselves such. I don’t hear any (Amer)indians call themselves redskins. So I see a pretty fundamental difference.

          • (Not that I don’t appreciate there background, Which I do!)

          • Sure, actual Cherokees call themselves Cherokees, but I don’t know of a team that was nicknamed “Cherokees” by people who called themselves Cherokees (which is what would be required for a parallel with the Yankees.)

          • OK, my tongue-in-cheek Cherokee comment misfired. I was mocking all the white Americans who proudly proclaim they’re part Cherokee. Surely all the folks who are 1/64th Cherokee calling themselves Cherokee means that Cherokee is now the name for a whole bunch of white people, and white people can name their sports team the Cherokees without reference to the original group bearing that name. Just as people of mostly English and German descent call themselves Yankees and can name their sports team that without reference to the original people on whom that moniker was pinned.

            FWIW, my wife–who is Dutch, and who organized an ethics panel discussion about the issue of Native American mascots in response to a Michigan Department of Civil Rights lawsuit against the use of Native American mascots in Michigan public schools, including two in our county (Indians and Redskins)–agrees. Her eyes widened at the argument in defense of Yankees, and instantly noted how it’s identical to the arguments in support of Native American mascots (which, believe me, she’s heard extensively).

            Of course, Yankees isn’t really an important issue to her. It’s defense is that, like Spartans, none of the original named group really cares. But the other arguments, that “the name really refers to us,” and “we don’t use it as a pejorative” really are pretty much what we hear from defenders of Native American mascots.

            (For the record, I’m torn on the issue. I know some Native Americans care a lot. But a lot of others don’t seem to care much, if at all. And I’m dubious about the “moral rights” theory of intellectual property that underlies the claims against use of the names. But I do think the use of the names is…not admirable…and most importantly there seems to be some evidence that it can hamper the educational attainment of Native American students.)

    • Still, different people have different objections. Sometimes it is just to the more offensive or cartoonish variations of the name. Like Redskins or Chief Wahoo. Sometimes it’s basically any unapproved mascot name. Sometimes it’s an objection to a name even if it’s been sanctioned.

      Kazzy has a link below pertaining to the Blackhawks and objections thereto. Which I honestly have mixed feelings about. I mean, many of the complaints seem perfectly valid. And yet, it feels a little bit like it might be about how I was taught, growing up, that it was wrong and offensive to call them Indians when the appropriate term is Native Americans. Which I studiously did until I moved to the west and found out that they overwhelmingly call themselves (when not referring to their tribe name)… Indians.

      I haven’t found much indication that strong objection to these names are anywhere near as universally held as articles like that often suggest. Instead, I hear a lot from activists (who are very often non-representative) and guilt-ridden whites. I honestly feel a little goofy about my revulsion to Redskins, given the fact that it doesn’t appear to be particularly shared by the targets themselves.

      • how much did immigration from India have to do with the raise of Native American? in metro areas east of the Mississippi when someone says “Indian” they probably mean someone from India.

        • Not much, I don’t think. I, too, tend to think of Indian-from-India when I hear the word “Indian.” But it wasn’t so much about clarity as it was about rightful terminology. The offensiveness of the word, rather than potential confusion caused by it.

      • One of the things that is difficult is ferreting out the well-intentioned-but-guilt-ridden-possibly-overreacting white person from the person trying to give voice to known opinion of Native peoples/groups. There are so few Native voices with any real reach or audience, a problem in its own right, that some white people with established audiences attempt to take up the mantel (sometimes with disasterous results).

        Regarding naming, I’ll totally cop to not really knowing, which is why even here my usahe is inconsistent. Indigenous groups and people are not a monolith, which opinions differing from tribe to tribe and person to person. My general tack is to do the best I can and, when possible, find out from the individual what he/she prefers. This tends to work. And I think, in general we should be more forgiving of people making genuine attempts at using the correct term (with any group of people) who err. Nothing is gained from shaming people over a mistake.

        • Per my first point, it is my impression that that piece was penned by the latter sort of white person, given his work to co-edit a book of Native voices/essays on the matter. Doesn’t mean he’s right, but it at least appears he is representing real opinions rather than projecting.

      • I think “First Nations” has more dignity.
        I avoid Indian because it’s nonspecific and confusing (Amerind is a lot more awesome than Native american, which is just a freaking mouthful)

        • It’s not confusing to me. Then again I do my best to not be obtuse.

          • You don’t have to be obtuse when there are two distinct groups of people who are called the same thing. All you have to do is not know which of the two groups they’re talking about.

            Like Kimmie, I Like Amerind or Amerindian. We should have decided on that.

          • When I was young, I thought that the swastika was an Amerindian symbol. Turns out it was an India-Indian one. Two meanings of the same word is not always sorted out by context clues.

          • Apu: Today, I am no longer an Indian living in America. I am an
            Lisa: You know, in a way, all Americans are immigrants. Except, of
            course Native Americans.
            Homer: Yeah, Native Americans like us.
            Lisa: No, I mean American Indians.
            Apu: Like me.
            — Blame Columbus, “Much Apu About Nothing”

            I believe that back-and-forth repeated into the credits.

          • Proctor: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
            Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter–
            Proctor: Wait, wait… just say slavery.
            Apu: Slavery it is, sir.

            Though “slavery” is right.

  6. the NCAA seemed to go out of their way to make sure their rules didn’t harm valuable brand names, they issued a ruling claiming that Fighting Illini was not a reference to any native group despite the fact that they had a Indian Chief mascot for years. this was yet another case of the NCAA letting the big guy play by their own rules.

  7. So I just made the mistake of looking at comments on Profootballtalk on the latest round of attacks on the Redskins name, so my dander is up, and I need to ask:

    What percentage of Redskins apologists, who insist there is nothing racist about the name, also insist that they themselves are colorblind?

    • Oh, I’m sure a few of them would admit to being racists…

      • If simply reading online comments causes your “dander” to be up, you might want to consider therapy. People are allowed to disagree with you. It doesn’t make them bad people.

        • In what way is referring to American Indians as, literally “Redskins”, consistent with any notion of “colorblindness”?

          • The same way that insisting that Trayvon Martin was a gangbanger who had to be put down like a mad dog is colorblind so long as you don’t use the N-word.

  8. From all of the articles I’ve read on this subject, I haven’t seen many if any at all that asked those who it truly affects (Indians) how they feel about it.

  9. Did you steal the potato idea from Tony Kornheiser? He has been saying it for years.

    As for the nickname, it shouldn’t surprise you that I have no problem with it. It is a harmless nickname. Furthermore, the federal government has little to say about the matter because, in spite of their name, the Redskins actually play in Maryland. Back when they played in DC proper, AG RFK and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall put pressure on the Redskins to integrate. They were the last holdout, and sports is one of the few places where being racist has a negative consequence; the Redskins were unsuccessful from 1946-71.

    As for now the nickname came to be, the Redskins were born in Boston, and were known as the Braves their first year. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for teams sharing a stadium to share the same nickname. When they moved from Braves Field to Fenway Park, they changed their nickname to the Redskins at the same time.

    As for a rooting interest, I would suggest that you root for the team of your childhood, but I understand you might have a legitimate reason not to. But there is no reason you should feel compelled to the root for the Redskins. There are plenty of transplants in the DC DMA who still root for their hometeams. Also, since you live within driving distance of the entire AFC North, whatever team you root for will make an appearance within an easy drive of you every 4 years at the very least.

    • No one is suggesting that the federal government has jurisdiction to bar the Redskins from using that name. What is being argued instead is that the term is a racial slur, effectively an obscenity, and thus is not entitled to the protection of trademark law. It’s a non-frivolous argument, at the very least, as there is precedent for prohibiting the registration of trademarks that are considered obscene- you can’t, for instance, trademark a phrase that prominently features the word “fuck.”

      If the name Redskins is deemed to be a racial slur, and thus unprotected by trademark law, the team could still keep its name, but it would lose the right to prevent others from profiting off of the Redskins name, meaning it would effectively lose any ability to rake in licensing fees for a good chunk of merchandising. That would be millions of dollars of revenue lost every year – unless of course they changed their name.

    • “As for the nickname, it shouldn’t surprise you that I have no problem with it.”

      Why shouldn’t it surprise us?

      Oh. Ohhhhhhhh…

  10. What if we changed the art from a drawing of a Native American to a drawing of an Irish person at the beach?

    Could we keep the name then?

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