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Patrick Hruby

Do the Right Thing

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on why a Washington Redskins name change is unpopular, insufficient and necessary

The Atlantic online

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we examine the ongoing controversy over the Washington Redskins' nickname. Is it time for a change?

Jake Simpson: ... There aren't enough words in the OED to describe the despicable tenure of Daniel Snyder, Washington Redskins owner. One poor blogger got sued by Snyder just for cataloging all his transgressions as owner. But one of the biggest continuing scandals perpetuated by Snyder—the Washington team name you I casually wrote and you casually read two sentences ago—actually has the support of a majority of the team's fans.

A variety of Native American groups and local fans have been asking Snyder for years to change the team's name from its current slur to a more appropriate moniker. The word 'redskin' has had negative racial connotations since the 19th century and is known to many Native Americans as The R-Word. But in an interview with USA Today last week, Snyder said a renaming would only occur over his dead body. "We'll never change the name," he said. "NEVER—you can use caps."

Unfortunately, Snyder has the backing of a majority of the country. A recent poll found that 79 percent of Americans support keeping the name, and only 11 percent thought it should be changed. Armed with that kind of public support, Snyder will continue to brush off litigation from understandably outraged Native Americans ...

Patrick Hruby: ... As a sportswriter, I've typed and said the word "Redskins" thousands of times. It has been a part of my job. Each and every one of those times, I have never meant or intended anything offensive. To the contrary, I always have been referring to a particular group of contractually obligated football players. Not Native Americans in general. Definitely not a particular Native American. (Well, unless someone on the roster or working in the team's front office happened to be ethnically Native American, in which case, the reference was totally inadvertent on my part). Until recently, I can't say I ever even thought about Native Americans while using the moniker.

And that, more than anything, is the problem.

This is what we think about indigenous people in the United States of America: We don't. Not really. Not beyond the occasional old Western movie, or maybe enjoying the work of Sherman Alexie. Native Americans were colonized, slaughtered, forcibly assimilated, herded onto permanent internment camps and largely wiped out before most of us were born, a kind of ethnic cleansing and ongoing American apartheid that mostly is ignored in our pop culture and largely left out of our history books. When comedian Chris Rock once joked that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade contained "three real Indians" and a bunch of "Puerto Ricans with a bunch of feathers in their hair," he wasn't really joking ...

Hampton Stevens: ... Obviously the meaning of "Redskins" has changed over the decades. Ethnic stereotypes are no longer thought funny. The word is now a slur. Fine, let's lose it. Change the Chiefs, too. As Jerry Seinfeld said, fans basically root for laundry.

Just tell me where the policing ends? If a nickname like the Fighting Illini is wrong, than what makes the state name of Illinois any less offensive? Or the name Kansas, which was derived from the Kanza people. What about my high school, Shawnee Mission East—named in honor of Christian missionaries who came to this part of the world so they could convert the local Shawnee. For that matter, it won't be long before some Muslim anti-defamation group quite accurately protests that the Holy Cross Crusaders' nickname glorifies medieval savagery in the name of a Christian War on Islam. Just how absurdly far will we go to avoid offending anyone, ever? Will someone censor every use of the word "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn? Oh. Wait... Someone already did.

Yes, words change meaning, teams change mascots. The Orangemen become the Orange, and life goes on. Whatever. Make the Redskins change their name. All you'll be doing is making Dan Snyder pay to assuage your own guilt. But don't pretend that calling for a mascot name change is brave or hard. Don't act like you are truly helping Native Americans, or ever dream that changing the name of a football team could in any way compensate for this nation's sins towards indigenous peoples. That notion is far more insulting than any racially charged team name ever could be ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online