Redskins or not in D.C. ?


Political correctness is something we deal with everyday, keeping us constantly aware of what we’re saying, the terminology we’re using, who’s sensitivities we might be dealing with in simple conversation.

Sometimes that correctness plays out on the public stage, setting the tone for national discourse.  Who’s right, who’s wrong, what was inadvertent, leading to overreaction, what was intentional, perhaps demanding action?  The sports world is littered with historical references that have offended sensitivities, sometimes leading to change that isn’t necessarily necessary.

The St. John’s University athletic teams at one time were nicknamed the “Redmen”.  It was a reference to men in red tuxedos.  St. John’s mistake was eventually dressing their mascot like a Native American, offending a large segment of our society.  By then it was too late to appease Native Americans by returning to men in red tuxedos.  The name itself had to go.

In the early 1930’s a collection of Native American artifacts was discovered in a salt deposit in Syracuse, New York, leading Syracuse University to adopt the nickname “Saltine Warriors”.  The discovery was later found to be a hoax, but the nickname stuck for several decades, drawing references into the mid ’70’s, even after the school had responded to the sensitivities of Native Americans and become the “Orangemen”.

Using that guideline, perhaps the New York Giants should change their name in deference to another find in upstate New York that was later discovered to be a hoax perpetrated by P.T. Barnum, the petrified “Cardiff Giant”.  The New York NFL-ers could have done worse, they could have inadvertantly offended the sensitivities of Barnum’s favorite victims and called themselves the “Suckers”.

The situation regarding the Washington Redskins, in all fairness, has greater ramifications than the vague or distorted references alluded to here, given that the team’s logo leaves no room for misunderstandings about what a “Redskin” is.  In this case it can be legitimately construed as a derogatory reference to a Native American, and, understandably, Native Americans would like for team owner Daniel Snyder to acknowlege their concerns.

So far his only acknowlegement has been to say as long as he owns the team, they will be the Redskins.  In their most recent efforts to gain satisfaction Native American groups have approached NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and declined to invite Snyder to those meetings, feeling he’s already had his final say. It’s not the right approach.  Dealing with Snyder through the media or sidestepping him all together by going through the NFL will not resolve this issue.  This has to come down to face to face dialogue, with solutions that can be reached.

One possible solution would be to keep the logo, in itself a proud image, and change the team name to the Americans, which could also be seen as a play on the city’s baseball team name, the Nationals, as a sort of homage to having hosted teams in both the American and National leagues, while also using it as a tribute to Native Americans, who currently view it as a slur.  Maybe this idea won’t work for everyone, but, if nothing else, it’s a suggestion, that with a little intelligent dialogue, something eventually will.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.



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