I’ve had many, many sports-related arguments in many, many bars. And today I decided to play out one of my favorites for you right here on my blog.
Last night, during the NBA Finals, a commercial brought to you by the National Congress of American Indians aired in seven major cities, examining many of the words Native Americans use to describe themselves – ‘daughter’, ‘father’, ‘patriot’, etc. The emphasis of course being at the end, when they explain the term they do not use is ‘Redskin’. I’ve been writing pieces of this list for a few years now…jotting down thoughts and ideas and my take on the name change controversy as it has unfolded…and of course I’ve been arguing about it:
Random Bar Patron: “But Daniel Snyder said they were originally named to honor their coach, a member of the Sioux tribe! It was an honor!”
That has been found to be incorrect. You can find proof of that printed in 1933 in the Hartford Courant. Oh, and if it was named after Coach “Lone Star” Dietz? They might want to find a different man to honor – It was later found that Coach Dietz wasn’t Native American at all. He made it up so he could avoid the World War I draft and served jail time for this offense. They didn’t even pick a good character to pretend to honor.
Random Bar Patron: “But the Native Americans don’t even care! Ask them!”
Partially true. Many Native Americans and entire tribes are indifferent to a Redskins name change. But. Being indifferent to a racial slur is not the same thing as speaking FOR the Redskins name. And entire tribes have spoken out against the name. In fact, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation just spent a lot of money on a commercial doing exactly that. Clearly they care and perhaps its time to retire that argument.
Random Bar Patron: “But what about tradition? It’s tradition!”
Oh, please. I could go for the obvious examples of “traditions” that changed (ahem, slavery, women’s suffrage, etc) but instead I’ll give you some traditions the Redskins in particular have delineated from: They have moved stadiums, which included changing the name of the stadium to just another <insert major corporation here> Field…they have changed their fight song (removed the phrase “scalp ’em”…good call guys) …and one day, long ago, they became the last NFL team to racially integrate. All breaks in traditions. Let’s have one more shall we?
Random Bar Patron: “But other teams are named after Native Americans and stereotypes – what about the Indians? Chiefs? Fighting Irish?”
Ok, I am sick of this argument. Those are not racial slurs. Native Americans call themselves Indians. The word Chief is a positive and reverent term within Native American culture. In fact, both “Chief” and “Indian” are both words used in the commercial above. Neither word was intended to be used to imply hatred and disrespect. And the Fighting Irish? The Fighting Irish was meant to honor the grit and tenacity of the Irish…a stereotype? Sure. But not an ethnic slur.
Random Bar Patron: “But they don’t MEAN it as racist!”
I totally agree. I am sure when people say “Redskins” in reference to the NFL, they aren’t intentionally being racist. Of course not. But this is where the institutionalized racism within the sport becomes applicable. Just because it’s always been done or said doesn’t make it an acceptable nickname for a football team. Grow. Learn. Evolve. It is not acceptable to defend a term born out of hatred and meant as a slur just because it has been accepted. It is absolutely like taking another racial slur and making it a professional sports teams’ nickname. I won’t write an example here because then I would be perpetuating the word and hatred involved in such words. But use your imagination. And then picture the riots that would occur in the streets if that happened.
Random Bar Patron: “This is just another example of how our world is becoming too politically correct, I’m sick of it!”
Really. Really. We’re going to call insulting a large contingent of people okay? You must be saying it is okay if it’s just being “politically correct” to change the name. This isn’t a “The Native Americans are being overly sensitive” situation. It’s always been a racial slur. We’re not talking about changing the name of Christmas tree to “Holiday Trees”. Becoming “too PC” seems to be a trend these days – but changing the names of sports teams out of respect for Native Americans began 50 years ago! It’s not a recent development. So this isn’t an example of just pandering to the PC masses – this is an example of rectifying a situation that has gone on far too long.
For me, this isn’t about being politically correct, or placating the feelings of a few – this is about respect. The word is defined as derogatory, is considered defamatory and was created to incite hate. I realize their numbers are few and that Native Americans may not have the voice to bring out about change on their own. I even realize that this may not impact their every day lives and will never impact my every day life. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. I believe you are on the wrong side of history if you continue to support the use of a racial epithet. Love thy neighbor. And thy neighbor should not have to be subjected to this term in the National Football League.
It will be changed. It’s just a matter of time.
If you were at the bar with me, would you jump in and contribute to this argument? Or would you sit back, sip a beer and watch my blood pressure rise?