Are you offended by the Washington Redskins? I am; but to be perfectly honest, it has a lot more to do with their quality of play than anything else. Here are my two favorite pieces of team trivia. First, they were on the losing end of the most lopsided defeat in NFL history, a 73 to 0 loss to the Chicago Bears in the 1940 NFL Championship Game. And this one’s my favorite. The Redskins remain the only team in the history of professional football, or any other sport for that matter, to lose a player to season and career ending injury… during a coin toss. The player was Turk Edwards. You’re welcome to look it up if you don’t believe me.
But getting back to the team name, is it actually offensive? The rapidly growing consensus seems to be a resounding YES. Many, even in the sports world, will now only refer to the team as Washington or those lousy bums, and the United States Trademark Office just canceled the patent on the Redskins nickname. That means anyone and their brother can now manufacture, market and sell team merchandise (logo notwithstanding) and the NFL won’t earn a dime. Normally, 31 teams would get a piece of that revenue pie. The Cowboys are the one exception. They have their own merchandise deal. Anyway, the move was meant to put more pressure on Dan Snyder, the less than beloved Redskins owner, to finally give in and change the team name, something he’s vowed he’ll never do. Two thoughts. First, when did this become a government issue? Why take so much interest in one team when so many others are equally guilty? Ever consider the Blackhawks name or logo? Why is that okay? And I don’t hear anybody clamoring to change the Indians’ nickname to the Cleveland Native Americans. It all seems sort of hypocritical. More on that in a minute. And second, if the goal here is to rid the world of that horribly offensive Redskins name, and I’m not denying that it’s offensive, why do something that could potentially flood the market with more and more of that very same name?
Honestly, prior to this whole debate, I never thought of the Redskins as anything more than a football team. After all, they’ve been the Redskins since 1933 when the team was still based in Boston. Dan Snyder, who’s only owned the Redskins since 1999, claims the nickname was meant to honor Native Americans. I have no doubt that was true, once upon a time. Generally speaking, team names are meant to show respect for something that should be admired or feared. Eventually, though, that name becomes a brand, an identity and nothing more. I don’t think of large people when you mention the Giants, birds of prey when you mention the Falcons, or rape and pillage when you mention the Vikings. Of course that whole love boat thing didn’t help. It is curious to me that, in all these years, the Browns haven’t changed their name, come up with better colors or settled on some type of logo. You have to wonder about the Dolphins too: aqua-marine, a sort of fruity looking orange and a fish? Okay, a dolphin is technically a mammal. Neither one is especially threatening. Don’t even get me started on the Packers. Cheese? Really? Now that’s offensive.
So I understand Snyder’s position, sort of, but I’m not about to give him or his team the benefit of the doubt. I say that because the Redskins have along and well documented history of racial insensitivity. The organization resisted increasing pressure to integrate. And in 1961, Secretary of the InteriorStewart Udall threatened federal retribution if they didn’t start hiring black players. They faced civil rights legal action by the Kennedy administration, and because their stadium was on government property, they were told they wouldn’t be able to play there if the team remained segregated. The situation was resolved in 1962 when the Redskins proudly albeit reluctantly became the last team in professional American football to integrate. Is the current situation really any wonder?
Getting back to the hypocrisy, I’d like to share part of an email I recently received from a close friend. He’s from Illinois and this whole conversation hits a little too close to home. Here’s what he had to say. “My dismay with this started when the University of Illinois had to do away with their Chief Illini mascot. The clothes and headdress he wore were donated by the Sioux Indian tribe so it was official. He danced at halftime to official Sioux music and did a dance taught to them by the tribe in the 1920’s. Fans LOVED and honored him… In 2005 or 06 the NCAA deemed him hostile and offensive. Really? But the fake, flaming spear tossing, Indian that Florida State uses isn’t? Apparently not because it’s never received that tag from the NCAA. The NCAA say they did it because of the complaints from the Native Americans from Illinois who spoke loudly enough to force their hand. The university was finally forced by the Governor of Illinois to do away with it in 2007.” Here’s my concern, if, or should I say when the Redskins are finally forced to change their name, what happens next? Will the Indians, Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, Seminoles and many others be pressured to do the same? Should they? My son had a suggestion I think is absolutely brilliant. He said leave the Redskins team name the same, change the logo to a potato (a redskin potato) and be done with it. You’ve got to admit, Hail to the Hash Browns has a nice ring to it and it’s about as American as it gets.