Atlanta Braves. Florida State Seminoles. Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland Indians. Golden State Warriors. These sports mascots have been the center of controversy in the past few weeks, but no more than the name of the Washington, D.C. football team, the Redskins. Is the name of the Washington Redskins racist, and should it be changed?
As you faithful Socratic Segment readers know, I grew up in Massachusetts. Specifically Natick, Mass., with our claim to fame being Doug Flutie. The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner played his high school football at Natick High School as a “Redmen”.
Natick means “place of hills” in the language of the Massachusetts Native Americans, and our town played a role in King Philip’s War in 1675. Staying true to our town’s roots, an Indian was my high school mascot, with the team name being Redmen. In my sophomore year talk began to circulate that they were going to change our team name because it was offensive and causing controversy. As we sat back as helpless students, we watched them strip away our team name and tradition.
There are stories like this happening around the nation, and the most prevalent is the call for the Washington Redskins to change their name. Proponents of the name change are claiming that the vast majority of Native Americans find this name offensive. President Obama even weighed in on the issue saying, “If I were the owner of a team and I knew that there was a name of my team that was offending a sizable group of people I’d think about changing it.”
Is this actually the case among Native Americans? From 2003- 2004 a survey was conducted by a very reputable organization: the National Annenberg Election Survey. The survey asked more than 750 Indians or Native Americans to answer the following question. “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?”
The results were overwhelming. Ninety percent of those surveyed said that the name does not bother them at all, while only nine percent were offended by the name. This is in direct contradiction to all those claiming offense on behalf of the majority of Native Americans. And while many claim this is a racist term referring to the Indians, “Oklahoma” is Choctaw for “Red People.” Perhaps the states name is next on the list for all those politically correct police out there.
In 1932 the name of the famed football franchise was changed to Redskins to honor the then-coach of the team William “Lone Star” Dietz who was a Sioux Indian. In fact, the name wasn’t meant as a racist term at all but as a tribute to the coach and his tribe. Those calling for a name change must consider the original intended meaning of the name.
Ultimately, the decision of the name change falls on the shoulders of Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins. Snyder was quoted saying, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can use all caps.” Does this make him a racist? Does this make Snyder insensitive toward the Native Americans who are offended by the team’s name?
I believe that Snyder is holding onto a tradition that has been around for nearly a century. If there is one thing that we can be sure of in this day and age, it is that someone will be offended by everything. What I mean by that is someone out there in the 300 million-plus Americans will be “offended” by anything that happens. If you were to survey hundreds of bird watchers, there are certainly some that would take offense to the Toronto Blue Jays or the Arizona Cardinals. And we really should be careful to offend the Vikings – Minnesota is next on the name change docket. Give me a break.
James is a sophomore majoring in political science. He enjoys bike rides and Florida sunsets.