Last month, Washington Examiner sports columnist Rick Snider addressed the re-emerging controversy surrounding the Washington NFL franchise's nickname, "the Redskins." Is the name offensive? More importantly, are Native Americans actually offended by it? And should they be?
Snider wrote that American Indians and the Redskins franchise are "[p]olar opposites unable to understand why the other won't alter its viewpoint." But Snider contradicted this black-and-white view six paragraphs later, with an anecdote about Sioux leaders who didn't mind the name. And the only person he quoted who asserted the name was offensive was the Rev. Graylan Hagler, whom Wikipedia identifies as African-American, not American Indian.
So where do American Indians really stand? The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a study on the matter in 2003 to 2004. That study should have put this issue to bed forever. By an overwhelming 90-9 margin, the sample of 768 American Indians said they don't mind the Washington Redskins bearing that name.
There are many other reasons that these resurgent claims of racism in the Redskins team name should be treated with skepticism. For one thing, it's what the team calls itself. They wouldn't pick a derogatory name for themselves. A sports team is a celebration of masculine warrior culture. They aren't going to name themselves "the wimps" or "the jerks." They all pick (or at least try to pick) cool nicknames for themselves that demonstrate toughness ("Bears," "Vikings," "Cowboys") or evince an appreciation for local or American history ("Ravens," "Packers," "49ers"). As it happens, "Redskins" achieves both.
Moreover, "Redskins" is not an explicitly racial reference. The term refers to face-painted Indian warriors, not the hue of Indian flesh. Although the name was used as an insult later, it originated with Indians painting their faces red before they went into battle. Obviously, a warrior-minded group of male athletes seeks to salute and emulate such preparations for battle.
It's also worth bearing in mind where the opposition to the name comes from -- basically, a bunch of hippies. Hagler and other activists would have you believe the Redskins issue is related to the civil rights struggle. It's a dubious claim, considering the above, and perhaps a sign they have too much time on their hands when there's no Republican president to complain about. The objections seem to be coming from people who reject the celebration of warrior culture in and of itself.
The historical origin of "Redskins" as a football team name offers still further proof that it was coined to honor, not denigrate American Indians. It was chosen by the team's owner in 1933, partly as a tribute to the team's American Indian coach, William "Lone Star" Dietz.
The Redskins name is a salute directed at the warriors who protected many American Indian tribes. The fact that racism, war and murder have taken such an enormous toll on Native Americans throughout American history does not diminish the bravery of the Indian fighters of long ago. It would be a shame, and in fact an insult to their memory, for the Redskins' name to be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Loren A. Smith was born and raised in the D.C. area and is a lifelong Redskins fan.