Ever since Theodore Roosevelt graced the White House, at that time called the Presidential Mansion, football has been considered an American pastime. While baseball and basketball have both dominated at different points historically, it is football that returns to prominence again and again.
So, when someone criticizes the sport, or a team, it becomes headline news.
Representative Tom Cole, the Deputy Minority Whip, raised some people’s ire when the member of the Chickasaw Nation criticized the Washington Redskins for their name and mascot, claiming they are, at best, insensitive, at worst, racist. As he said on Thursday:
Come on. This is the 21st century. This is the capital of political correctness on the planet. It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs. It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.
It’s a great football team with a great football tradition, and it shouldn’t have a name that’s derogatory to Native Americans attached to it.
The name “Redskins” was adopted by the team, originally known as the Tornadoes, in 1933, with legend saying that the name was chosen in honor of the teams coach, Lone Star Dietz, who claimed to be part Sioux, a claim which has itself come with controversy. The team owners have, over the years, insisted that the name was a sign of respect for our native heritage. The problem is, none of the Native American nations have bought that line.
Branding is important in any business, but especially in sports. Teams spend years building up their brand recognition. The failure of the team to respond to decades of complaints regarding the name shows contempt and is, ultimately, racist. Would we stand for the “Washington Negroes?” Claims of “honoring Native Americans” fall on deaf ears, for the name itself is a severe insult to the tribes.
Of course, there is a simple solution to the issue, which would not eliminate the name at all: change the logo. There is a redskin which is perfectly suitable for use as a mascot, the Solanum tuberosum, commonly called the potato. A gigantic spud mascot strutting the field would be amusing, and it would give the fans inspiration for insults to hurl at the opposing team. They could even refer to the field kicker as the “spud cannon” and make similar tuber-related jokes. Alternatively, if they want to keep the native mascot, they should change the name of the team, possibly working with one of the native tribes. The Washington Cherokees has a nice ring to it. The two together remain offensive, and insulting, for a population which is now becoming very politically active and are proving themselves very capable of getting what they need done.
While Congressman Cole is not planning on pushing the issue, raising it as a valid conversation reminds us all that racism is still not eliminated in this nation. It is inappropriate for any professional agency to wrap itself around racist epithets in this day and age of hyper-networked social media. It is time the Redskins enter the modern world. After all, the name change did not hurt the Washington Bullets, now known as the Washington Wizards. A bold stroke forward for the franchise would be a breath of fresh air. Or, they could continue losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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