Everybody is talking about it. Curt Menefee and the boys were talking about it on FOX NFL Sunday. The NFL’s beloved commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently gave a public statement about it. Amidst government shutdown woes, President Obama even found time to say that if he owned the Washington Redskins, he would have the name changed. The Washington Post says its no longer a matter of “if,” but “when” the D.C.-based team will retire the mascot that the team has held since they resided in Boston for four years before relocating to the nation’s capital in 1937.
This is not a new controversy. It seems like every time that there is a slow news week the topic comes up. Various legal challenges have snaked their way through the court system since at least 1992, but the logo and nickname has been consistently upheld. Four years ago, the Supreme Court denied to hear an appeal from a group of American Indians to have the trademark rescinded. All of the controversy surrounding Native American-related team mascots has been a topic of debate since the ’60s.
Americans are pretty far from evenly split on the issue. In fact, a poll from USA Today earlier this year found overwhelming support amongst the public. A full 79 percent of Americans thought that the Redskins should keep their name. If that isn’t convincing enough, the support (or at least indifference) from the Native American community is similarly impressive. A 2002 survey from Sports Illustrated found 79 percent of American Indians had no objection to the name. The National Annenberg Election Survey found that 90 percent of American Indians were not bothered by the name.
Naming sports teams is not done willy-nilly. There is a sense of dignity which comes with naming the team. Think about some of the other team names in the NFL: the Bears, the Giants, the Buccaneers, the Titans. Notice that no team is named the Sloths, the Bunny Rabbits, the Ballet Dancers or the Earthworms. Team names, especially in football, are meant to reflect the team’s strength. Power and fortitude, determination and perseverance, these are what’s in a name for team. It would be completely absurd to give the team a name which is meant to be derogatory.
It’s worth noting that the term “Redskin” has been used in a negative context for sometime, at least outside of the sporting world. Nobody can deny that Native American people experienced hardships. But again, I contend that the naming of a sports team is meant as a badge of honor, dedicated to those hardships, rather than a mockery of them. Individuals of varying backgrounds have different opinions on the appropriateness of the word. Good faith views are held on both sides.
All that being said, if the team were to decide to change it’s name, I wouldn’t be surprised. Nor would I care; though I’m certain that there are people who would protest any change. Redskins owner Dan Snyder seems less than keen on a change, but with radio ad campaigns criticizing the name running in every city the ‘Skins play in this season, the clock is ticking. One way or another, I don’t think the name change is a big deal … at all. If they do, they do. If they don’t, they don’t. C’est la vie.