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None Dare Call Them Redskins

October 3, 2003

Trevor Matich

 

This week, a U.S. District Court judge ruled to allow the Washington Redskins to keep their trademarks.  

In an ongoing legal process, a group of activists has been trying force the Redskins to change their name to something "less offensive" to Native Americans.  Last year the Washington Metropolitan Area Council of Governments passed a non-binding resolution requesting the same thing.  

Their point is that since the word "Redskins" was at one time used as a racial slur, it might offend people in this day and age.  

Never mind that "Washington Redskins" has come to signify dignity, courage, and Super Bowl championships.  Never mind that the Redskins' great offensive linemen from the 80s and early 90s were proud to be called the "Hogs," not because association with porcine mud wallowers is particularly attractive, but because they changed it's meaning as it applied to them into something to be proud of.

The meaning of words changes over time.  Remember when "gay" used to mean "happy?"

And so it is that the movement to strike names referring to Native Americans continues to make itself known.  How about we give them everything they want.  I mean, everything.

They have a point with the term "Redskins"--one that can be rebutted, but a point nonetheless--since that term did indeed at one time have a negative connotation.  

However, names like "Warriors" and "Braves," "Black Hawks" and "Fighting Illini" all convey the positive aspects of the free-spirited warrior ethic.

The same people who want DC's NFL team to change it's name also want all other Native American references stricken.  They say that even though the majority of Native Americans themselves aren't bothered by it, if some are, that's enough.

So, let's do it.  All the way.

Start with the obvious--the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Florida State Seminoles, and Utah Utes all must go.  But let's be consistent, and include all references that might be offensive to a particular person or group.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish?  Their mascot is a pugilistic leprechaun.  That's certainly a more negative ethnic depiction than the mighty Indian chief on the Redskins' helmets.  Some Americans of Irish decent might be offended by that brawler's stereotype.  It's gone.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers' mascot is an angry little farmer.  Most farmers aren't angry at all.  And most people in Nebraska aren't even farmers, so that excludes the majority of people from representation with their great football team.  We're trying to be inclusive here.

And speaking of excluding people and hurting their feelings, the Oakland Athletics must change as well.  The term "Athletics" can be a constant cruel message to those who aren't athletically gifted, haughtily reminding them that they aren't worthy to be included on Oakland's athletic team.

The New York Giants?  Gone.  What about the feelings of short people?  Why is calling a team the "Giants" different from calling a team the "Manhattan Midgets?"

The Tennessee Titans have got to go.  "Titans" were icons of one of history's great belief systems.  You wouldn't have the "Tennessee Buddahs," would you?

Then there's the San Diego Padres.  Same deal.  In the eyes of some, they're trivializing their clergy.  In the eyes of others, they're excluding their clergy.  If you're going to have "Padres," how can you exclude San Diego's Pastors and Priests, not to mention its Ministers, Monks, and Mullahs?

No no no.  That would be exclusionary.  That would hurt feelings.  That would never do.  

In the spirit of Kensington, MD, if anyone is offended we should satisfy them, even if most aren't.  Kensington has a decades-old Christmas tradition of having Santa ride into town on a fire engine.  Well, on Christmas 2001, two people--two--complained.  So they cancelled Santa.  (In fairness to Kensington, they brought him back.  That's a big "L" for the Grinch.)

Now, of course, I'm talking with tongue firmly in cheek here.  As a compassionate society, we should take care to address the wishes of our fellow citizens.  In a representative republic, the minority rightly has political and legal protection from the tyranny of the majority--what our Founding Fathers termed "mob rule."  

But for goodness' sake, where do you draw the line?  Just as the minority has protection from the tyranny of the majority, the majority has protection from unreasonable requests of the minority (remember, most Native Americans aren't particularly concerned with the Redskins' name).  

No one will ever be totally satisfied.  This is where common sense comes in.

So since this issue of sports mascots is heating up again, what if we just stepped aside and let the people who want change have their way.  Entirely.  Completely.  What do you think the court of common sense would make of the result?

 

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