Roger Goodell, the majordomo of the weekly bone-crushing fracas called the National Football League, said the other day that he is sensitive to those who think that the nickname of the Washington franchise in the NFL, the “Redskins,” is a racial slur.
“If one person is offended, we have to listen,” he said. It seems to me that having to listen to the offended, even a minority of one, could become a full-time job for Roger. Some folks love the state of being offended.
In case you haven’t heard, there is a now a movement being led by some members of Wisconsin’s Oneida Nation to force a name change onto the Washington franchise. And in case you haven’t heard, the owner of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, has said that the name will never change. That is the first time Snyder has said something I’ve agreed with.
This is not a new controversy, but it promises to hang around like a mildly blistering boil for the near future. Washington’s team has been called the Redskins since 1933, when they were in Boston. Now, obviously, no one of a sane mind would name a sports franchise after a racial epithet.
The name “redskins” was originally simply a benign English translation for the indigenous race of peoples who had populated the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years or so before the palefaces ever showed up. The name came from the “Indians” themselves, and was used for a century by both races in conversation and treaty negotiations with no prejudicial intent whatsoever.
But then writers of pulp westerns in the late 19th century salted their narratives with phrases like “pesky redskin savages,” and in the age of film, many Hollywood westerns took their cue from that. So some (not all, not most, perhaps not even many) Native Americans have argued that since it was once used in that context as a “racial slur,” it is in fact always a racial slur in any usage. And as Goodell says, “we have to listen.” That is to say we should consider their point of view.
Having considered that point of view, I think it is not only wrongheaded, but does not serve the interests of Native Americans, who arguably have been dealt the worst hand of any American minority.
As caring humans and citizens, we should work to improve the impoverished conditions that exist on our federal reservations. They got a raw deal historically, and it is still a festering raw deal. The omnipresent “casinos” have done little to break the cycle of hopelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction that is endemic in those areas.
Wouldn’t it be better to accept that the use of “Redskins” by the Washington football team is not being used in a pejorative way and that it is in no way intended to offend? And wouldn’t it then be better to work with the team and the league to bring attention to the dire circumstances and entrenched poverty on our federal reservations and to try to do something about it? Of course it would, but that would require compromise and understanding and bridge-building. If it was as easy to work and solve problems as it is to kvetch and raise Cain, we wouldn’t have any problems, would we?
We live in a media climate that promotes division, one that generates a lot of heat and very little light. A number of sportswriters have announced that will not write or say the word “Redskins.” I’m sure that makes them feel better.
Some of the more sanctimonious call it the “R-word.” That bothers me. It seems to me that to maintain that “Redskins” is equal to the n-word is nothing less than immoral. For that implies that every little kid who ever proudly wore his Redskins gear (a positive image of the great American Indian culture and heritage) has worn the equivalent of a Klan robe. That is sickening. But that is where “political correctness” leads us.
By the way, how many Native American broadcasters does ESPN employ?
Postscript: If anyone really wants to learn enough to be more than a “barber shop” expert on this subject, Google Ives Goddard’s scholarly study “I Am A Red-Skin.” Just the footnotes will wear you out.