As we ponder the controversy surrounding the possible name change of the Washington Redskins, let’s ask ourselves a few questions, questions that seem obvious to me, but are not getting the glare of the spotlight they probably deserve.
Members of the Oneida Indian tribe claim the term Redskins, the NFL’s team mascot, is offensive to Native American Indians and they demand a name change. This is not the first time this controversial subject has come up. It dates back to the 1990’s.
Is the term offensive? We can probably all agree that the name is offensive to some. The derivation of the term redskins has too many variations to identify if it was intended to be used as a slur. Most seem to suggest it was not, but merely as an identifier of skin tone.
While the original term cannot be confirmed to have had negative connotations, present day interpretations swing between being negative and being a tribute to Native Americans. Some consider it a slur, while some consider it a symbol of fierce, proud warriors.
Before we rush to knee-jerk reactions fueled by social media coverage, let’s ask some critical questions.
What percentage of Native Americans are offended by the term Redskins?
Numbers will always vary, but according to a 2004 poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 90 percent of Indians took the position that the name is acceptable, while nine percent found the name “offensive.” For more on the survey click here, and for the original news release, click here.
Below is an excerpt from a Seattle Times article on Wellpinit High School in Washington (state), home to the Spokane Tribe of Indians where the mascot for 107 years has been the Redskins. Most do not share the negative view of the Redskins name, they embrace it.
Says Kyra Antone, 17, who’s going into 12th grade and is wearing one of the T-shirts, “It’s not a negative name for us. Whenever I think of Redskins, I think of pride in our sports teams. There’s nothing wrong with being a 17-year-old Native American.”
“We don’t see it as a derogatory name. But if you ask a grandpa or grandma, they think of it differently,” says Brodie Ford, 17, who just graduated and is heading to nearby Whitworth University.
Ford says that in sports, when playing other schools, he didn’t hear “Redskins” used in a derogatory way.
Here is the entire article; http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023963080_redskinsnamexml.html
Here are results from a 2013 poll on ESPN;
But a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that nationally, "Redskins" still enjoys widespread support. Nearly four in five Americans don't think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent weren't sure and 2 percent didn't answer.
Here is the entire article;
Clearly some are offended and some consider it a slur. So, at what point to we push for change?
How many people should be offended by something before we instigate change? One? 1,000? One percent? 25 percent? How about 50%? Shouldn’t a reasonable tipping point for change be identified? Isn't our country founded on a majority rules concept? If we are forcing change, we should find a reasonable balance and enforce if unilaterally and accept the ramifications both good and bad.
If we set the bar too high, we could stifle change, but if we set too low, we allow and even encourage abuse of the system. Suddenly, everything, no matter how ridiculous or trivial is a potential target. It’s a slippery slope. We must be prepared to accept that the standard we set will be the standard used going forward, when judging something that could be important to you.
Who stands to gain from this?
Anyone? Recently, President Obama and possible 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton came out in support of changing the name. Politicians have their own agendas and they rarely go against the grain, especially on race issues. They will not risk a backlash by speaking against it. Their position was predetermined by their job, not by their personal opinion. They also have the largest platform for that opinion, which gives their side an unfair advantage and distorts the perception of the level of support the cause really has.
We also need to be wary of the media whose ultimate motive is no longer to explore truth and let the public decide, but to sell papers and website hits and fill the endless void of air time. We should look at this objectively and draw our conclusions with logic, practicality and fairness.
It’s likely that there is a contingent claiming to be offended to take advantage of the situation to satisfy personal agendas, which usually involve money, political leverage or increased visibility.
Let’s flash forward to a future where the name has changed. How are we different? Is the Oneida tribe stronger, better, richer, more educated, less threatened? How are their lives improved upon by the change? Are we a better society? Are we crushing racism or are we merely placating a vocal minority demands?
What does that open the floodgates for? What’s next? Fighting Irish? Indians? Blackhawks? Middle aged women being offended at teams named cougars? It’s absurd, right? No, it’s true. An article in a Utah paper detailed how a High School board rejected the use of the name cougar as the school’s mascot as they thought it may offend middle aged women. The story is below.
In America, it seems we can find someone who is easily offended, or at least pretending to be, when it creates an opportunity. We need to be wary of the precedent we set and be careful what we wish for.
What about Snyder?
Should he be forced to change the name to sate the few? Some suggest Snyder should “...just give in…” and change the name. Is that a precedent we want to establish? Is that what you would tell your children to do? No, you wouldn’t. Before we demand change, let’s make sure we are asking the right questions and not jumping on the latest cause du jour.
Ask yourself what you would do if you were in Snyder’s shoes/cleats. Would you rush to change something labeled as a slur aimed at Native Americans, when the overwhelming majority of Native Americans polled don’t even consider it offensive? If it was your brand, what would you do?
I am in no way a Redskins fan (go Seahawks!), but I respect it as a franchise and brand. Nor am I a fan of Dan Snyder. He’s an egotistical owner whose team has bumbled under his regime and he’s mishandled this situation. Had he kept his mouth shut, he’d not inflame the situation, but he leads with his ego, as always. His defiance in the face of this likely doesn’t help his cause, but that’s his right.
However, Snyder has ownership of a valuable brand that is not infringing, repressing, isolating or causing hardship. Rebranding could cost him millions. It’s easy to say ‘just change it’ when it’s someone else’s.
Before we rush to judgment, we need to block out the white noise (hopefully that isn’t offensive to Caucasians) and think this through with clarity and logic, not with our emotions and not with a bunch of talking heads screaming over each other for ratings.
Most importantly, need to keep an eye on how we set our precedents and how we allow ourselves to be forced into change.