Like many news organizations, we’ve taken to calling the Washington (ahem) Redskins the “Washington NFL Franchise” in our home. It’s one of those self-evident truths — “Redskins” is offensive. It’s an argument that dates back “decades” — and despite owner Robert Snyder’s protests to the contrary (that it honors the team’s heritage, and further, the heritage of Native Americans) it continues today.
Now mind you, this is a franchise that hasn’t covered itself in racial glory (essentially, the Boston Red Sox of the NFL, with George Marshall playing the role of Tom Yawkey).
It was the last NFL team to de-segregate (in 1962, some 16 years after the Los Angeles Rams signed the first African-American player of the modern era) — in of the best lines of his career, legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich remarked “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.”
So having a racist nickname seems to follow suit for the team. According to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz:
Scalps and Indigenous children became means of exchange, currency, and this development may even have created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the Indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp hunts: redskins.
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Senator Maria Cantwell's proposed bill to strip the NFL of their nonprofit status is the latest…www.beaconbroadside.com
However, today, the Washington Post released a survey that caused me to think otherwise about this. Blaring under the headline:
Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team’s moniker.
I was shocked by this. Then I read some of the quotes from those surveyed — this one was particularly jarring:
As a white upper-middle class liberal, I have a pretty healthy sense of outrage. And come on, the team name is just … wrong. But it’s clear Native Americans have bigger issues to worry about than the luxury of complaining about a racist football team name … from the Post article:
Those interviewed highlighted repeatedly other challenges to their communities that they consider much more urgent than an NFL team’s name: substandard schools, substance abuse, unemployment.
The name has to go. But if we all paid a small percentage of attention similarly to the conditions of schooling, job opportunities and addiction issues for Native Americans as we did for a football team … well, Daniel Snyder could call his team whatever the hell he wants. But hopefully something less racist.