In these times, being politically correct matters to some people. To others, they could care less. How do we determine what’s right and wrong? We know some things are just wrong, like murder and other crimes. But, what’s in a name?
There are nicknames for sports teams out there that some people find offensive, and then there are those people who don’t find it offensive at all. The NCAA has been cracking down on Native American nicknames that they deem offensive and they use a double standard by doing it.
I’m going to comment on what I believe is a double standard by the NCAA. I am also going to give the pros and cons of why the Washington Redskins should or shouldn’t change their nickname. I am not writing this article to be offensive. I’m writing it because in my mind I know the true meaning of the nickname.
History of the Washington Redskins
The Boston Braves were founded in 1932 and then changed their name to the Redskins in 1933. Four years later, they moved to Washington, D.C.
The Washington Redskins have a deep history. They’ve won 13 division championships, made the playoffs 23 times, played in five Super Bowls and winning a total of five NFL Championships; including three Super Bowls.
They have had some great players Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Russ Grimm, Darrell Green and John Riggins. The Redskins have also had some great coaches like Joe Gibbs, George Allen and Vince Lombardi.
For 80 years now, they have been known as the Redskins. So, why change it now?
In 1997, the Washington Bullets of the NBA changed their nickname to the Wizards due to the owner feeling uncomfortable using the Bullets name due to gun violence in the District. But that didn’t mean that the crime rate dropped because of the name change.
In 1999 the NAACP called for an end to the use of Native American names, images, and mascots. They claimed that the use of these nicknames is insensitive and they violate anti-discrimination laws.
NCAA use and rule changes
Some schools in the NCAA have chosen to change their names on their own, like Marquette University who changed it from Warriors to the Golden Eagles and St. John’s University from Redmen to Red Storm, Miami University of Ohio changed their nickname from Redskins to Redhawks.
The University of Iowa has refused to schedule teams outside of the Big Ten with Native American mascots. I find this ironic because Iowa’s nickname is the Hawkeyes, which has native origins. However the teams used a hawk mascot rather than a Native American.
One schools name that was named hostel was the Central Michigan University Chippewas. However, the name was removed from the list because the Chippewa Tribal Nation supported the nickname.
In 2005 the NCAA asked a total of 31 schools to re-evaluate their nicknames. The Arkansas State Indians changed their name to the Red Wolves and the University of Louisiana at Monroe changed theirs from Indians to Warhawks.
The University of Illinois was also asked to change their name from Fighting Illini. This is even touchier due to the fact that the state was named after the Illini tribe. Illinois did, however, remove all Native American logos and mascots but kept the Fighting Illini name saying that it refers to the state.
As an avid college hockey supporter, I am a huge University of North Dakota fan. One of the two Sioux Tribes actually gave them approval to keep the namesake. But, because the one of the tribes refused, North Dakota was told by the NCAA to change their name or face penalty. The tribe that supported keeping the nickname actually sued to have it retained. They have since stopped using the Fighting Sioux name and logo in 2012 after many court battles. Even the state government got involved with the issue. The University of North Dakota cannot name a new mascot until 2015 which I think is crazy.
To me, the Fighting Sioux nickname was not racist nor should it be considered racist. I’m Irish, you don’t see me telling Notre Dame to change their nickname or being offended that they use a Leprechaun logo.
I do believe that some of these schools honor Native American culture with their names and some tribes see it that way, Like at Central Michigan and Florida State.
I asked my good friend Tony Flying-Squirrel, who is Cherokee, what he thought about the NCAA’s decisions on Native American nicknames.
"I would have to commend the NCAA on this matter for the following reason. Almost all tribes have multiple “bands” or “clans”. Within each of those sub-groups, leadership styles may, and almost always certainly do, differ. I know this first hand because I know several traditional, reservation born/raised Sioux brothers & sisters from differing bands from all over North Dakota all the way down into Northern Nebraska. As their overall history is shared, their local history has much diversity, including the values that they hold sacred the most. I have to view the NCAA’s decision on this matter to be a mature decision because it implies that all the bands within that tribe would better benefit each other if they would unite in their position on a principle, especially one that holds the way non-indigenous people view not just Sioux Indians, but all Native Americans.” – Tony Flying-Squirrel
The University of Utah's nickname is the Utes, for which the state of Utah was named for. The Ute Tribal Council has given their permission for the school to use the Ute name. However, they did change the mascot from an Indian to a red tailed hawk named Swoop.
Even at Florida State, who is called the Seminoles, they have been allowed to keep their name. It’s called Tribal Sovereignty, in which the tribe that the team is named after gives approval as I wrote about earlier with Utah and Florida State.
Saying that Florida State can use the Seminole name and North Dakota can’t use the Fighting Sioux name seems like a double standard to me.
"I believe it is acceptable if used in a way that fosters understanding and increased positive awareness of the Native-American culture. And it must also be done with the support of the Native-American community. There is a way to achieve a partnership that works together to achieve mutually beneficial goals.” – Steve Denson, director of diversity for Southern Methodist University and member of the Chicksaw nation.
If the NCAA is going to make just certain teams change their nicknames and not other ones, then I believe that is wrong.
So now here we are again back at the NFL. Clearly them name “Redskins” can be considered as racist and insensitive. It would be like using the “N” word for a team or using the name “Crackers” for another. It’s easy for people who aren’t Native American to support a team name like the Redskins, but walk a while in their shoes. Basically there are two sides to the issue and both can clearly state their case either way. But, what is the “right” thing to do here. Even though they’ve have the nickname for 30 years, times have changed and it’s time for a change.
However, if the Redskins change their name, should the Chiefs have to do so as well? I once again asked Flying-Squirrel that same question and this was his response.
“Let’s start with the history of Kansas City’s mascot name for their football team. When Lamar Hunt agreed to relocate the franchise to Kansas City on May 22, 1963 and on May 26 the team was renamed the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt and head coach Hank Stram initially planned on retaining the Texans name, but a fan contest determined the new "Chiefs" name in honor of Mayor Bartle's nickname that he acquired in his professional role as Scout Executive of the St. Joseph and Kansas City Boy Scout Councils and founder of the Scouting Society, the Tribe of Mic-O-Say. A total of 4,866 entries were received with 1,020 different names being suggested, including a total of 42 entrants who selected "Chiefs."
This is important in understanding the context behind the name, and the eventual offense that it continues to cause within the Native American Community. I don’t think that it was the original intention of referencing Native American people when this name was chosen, as shown in the history above. At some point, and research results are almost non-existent in my efforts thus far, the Arrowhead was selected as the artwork to depict this mascot name. I think in retrospect, and even now, that if the artwork were originally submitted/approved and/or even now changed to, some sort of “chief” reference presenting itself in perhaps a Boy Scout or a Military context, it would have bolstered greater camaraderie with all people groups in America, especially considering the need to unite a country during a time of war, such as we’ve gone through in the past dozen years. I actually believe, this would have bolstered greater patriotism in relation to some of America’s favorite recreational past times. It’s not too late, I still believe that this could be done, and in fact, I think with the social/political climate in our country, it’s the best time to do so.”
That basically sums up how most of the Native American community sees the use of the Chiefs and their logos. But what about the Redskins name.
Once again I asked Tony Flying-Squirrel how he feels about the Redskins nickname. He is very to the point in this quote. It isn’t to be derogatory; it’s to prove a point. This is what he said:
“With regard to the term “Redskins”, I do think the very context of the word is based in contempt, dis-regard of human value, and disrespect. Native Americans are the only people group within the United States of America and its sporting team mascots to garner such a name. The language I am about to use is harsh, but let me be clear; I do not wish to offend any people group by referencing them. I am simply using these terms to drive home a point that words hurt. Can you imagine the amount of crying out in hurt and anger if we were to have a team in Mississippi called the “N” word or other names that African Americans are called? What about the San Francisco “Queers”, the San Jose “Swamp Rats”, the Greenwich Village “Kikes” or “Jewbags”? It pains me to even type these words out completely, but you get my point. These words have absolutely no affirmation or kind affection attached to them, so why would we use such a word as “Redskin” to reference the people who originally inhabited this land, shared so freely with pilgrims, teaching them how to farm, and care for the land? Yes, it’s true, our people have killed many a Euro-migrant, more often than not trying to protect the land, our own people, language, customs, etc…
Having said all of this, we can do far more good working toward reconciling with minimal effort than the extraneous amount of effort that we spend trying to stay divided just so we can have our fun. If we would all take time to be kind, encourage one another, and build each other up, we can show the kindness that Jesus modeled, and it just might be exactly what that one person that you encountered today needed to brighten them up, even if just for a moment.” – Tony Flying-Squirrel.
To the Native American community, “Redskins” is offensive and needs to be changed. To most non-Native American the name is just a name.
The Cons of changing the Redskins name is that it changes history. The Pros of changing is tolerance to other peoples and groups feeling and doing what’s right.
I’m not saying the Redskins should change their name and I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I just think that the subject should be looked at and that Washington needs to at least look at the idea of changing their nickname to something else in the future.