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Liberals Fabricate Outrage Over ‘Redskins’
The team name is an anachronism, but a harmless one.

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin

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Rich Lowry

The Washington Redskins have a problem. The football team’s nickname is offensive to members of an easily aggrieved group that is determined to make pointless gestures toward righting historic wrongs through a grim lack of proportion.

In other words, its nickname is offensive to American liberals.

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The epicenter of the anti-Redskins resistance is editors of liberal websites and magazines such as Slate and Mother Jones who have decided to banish the word from their football coverage, such as it is. Needless to say, if you get your gridiron news from Mother Jones, you probably care more about the team’s labor practices and its carbon footprint than the performance of its positional units on any given Sunday.

President Barack Obama validated the offense-taking when he said in a recent interview that if he were owner of the team, he would consider changing the nickname, displaying, as usual, an officious inability to leave any presidential opinion unexpressed.

The roots of the Redskins go back to 1930s Boston. The team was known as the Braves when it played at Braves Field alongside the alliterative baseball team the Boston Braves; then the team switched to the Redskins when it went to Fenway Park to play alongside the Red Sox. A few years later, the team decamped to Washington.

In the consciousness of the nation’s capital, the Redskins exist somewhere between a beloved sports team and the object of a quasi-religious veneration. The team has a rich tradition, including a 70-year-old fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” performed by a marching band —  “Braves on the Warpath! / Fight for old D.C.!” Its burgundy-and-gold uniforms and its logo are iconic, and the team’s long rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys has always made its nickname seem perfectly apt.

Surely, the franchise didn’t settle on its nickname as a way to slight Native Americans. No one picks a team name as a means of disparagement. San Francisco didn’t choose the name “49ers” because it wanted to mock the foolish desperation of people panning for gold in the mid-19th century. Dallas didn’t pick the name “Cowboys” to highlight the gunslinging violence of life on the American frontier. Team nicknames and logos invariably denote fierceness and strength, which in the context of the NFL are very good things.

Yes, the name “Redskins” is an anachronism, but it is a harmless one. It isn’t meant as a statement of how people should refer to Native Americans, nor would any rational person take it as such. A team nickname is a highly stylized symbol utterly removed from reality. Are we supposed to believe that the team’s cheerleaders are popularly known as the Redskinettes because that’s what people think Native Americans called their women?

In an ecstatic Pittsburgh, baseball fans have been waving black skull-and-crossbones flags to root on their surprising Pirates. No one stops to object that the Barbary pirates did terrible things centuries ago, as do Somali pirates today, and that therefore everyone in Pittsburgh is making light of murder and mayhem on the high seas. This would obviously be an absurd overinterpretation of an innocent team nickname and the good-natured spiritedness surrounding it.

But absurd overinterpretation is endemic to the anti-Redskins cause. Psychologist Michael Friedman, Ph.D., seriously maintains, “Not only does the use of this slur risk causing direct damage to the mental and physical health of our country’s Native American population, it also puts us all at risk for both participating in and being harmed by ongoing prejudice.” On the website Salon, English professor Steven Salaita argues that the nickname involves “the peculiar disquiet of a whiteness perceived to be in decline.”

This would be news to Redskins fans, who are evidently feeling a rather mundane disquiet over a 1–3 start and the state of star quarterback Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired knee. Sometimes football is just football.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2013 King Features Syndicate


Indian Mascot Controversy
The recent kerfuffle over the Washington Redskins football team name has reignited an old debate about the use of native-American symbols in sports. Here's a look at the history of the Redskins name and other teams that used native American names and images.
The Washington Redskins football franchise began was first called the Boston Braves. In 1933 owner George Preston Marshall (pictured) changed their name to the Redskins to honor then-head coach William "Lone Star" Dietz. Marshall moved the Redskins to Washington in 1937.
Redkins fans often don Indian regalia when cheering on the team. Pictured, Redskins super-fan "Chief Zee."
In 1992, a group of native Americans filed a complaint with the Patent and Trademark Office, arguing that the Redskins mascot did not deserve the trademark protection it was granted in 1967 because of its disparaging nature.
The plaintiffs in Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc. initially prevailed, and the trademark was cancelled in 1999, but a U.S. district court reinstated it, finding insufficient evidence of disparagement. The claimants appealed, but the Supreme Court in 2009 declined certiorari in the case.
In March, 2013, Eni Faleomevaega, the non-voting House delegate from American Samoa, introduced H.R. 1278, the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013, that would remove federal trademarks that use the term "redskin."
Faleomavaega penned an opinion piece on Politico explaining the bill: "It is time the National Football League faced reality: The continued use of the word 'redskins' is unacceptable. It is a racist, derogatory term that is patently offensive to Native Americans."
In May, ten members of Congress, including Congressional Native American Caucus co-chairs Tom Cole (pictured) and Betty McCollum, sent a letter to Redskins owner Dan Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting action on team's name.
Said the letter: "Native Americans throughout the country consider the term 'redskin' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word' among African Americans or the 'W-word' among Latinos … the NFL will never fulfill its 'Commitment to Diversity' as long as this racial slur remains a key component of the NFL organization."
NFL commissioner Goodell defended the name in a letter to Congress, saying: “The name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and, respect."
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was unequivocal, telling a reporter: "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III weighed in against a name change, tweeting: "In a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness."
Former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann also defended the name, saying: “I was very proud to play for the Washington Redskins, and I did it to honor Native people in that regard."
Two other famous former Redskins — wide receiver Art Monk (left) and defensive back Darrell Green — have said the team should consider changing the name. Said Monk: “[If] Native Americans feel like Redskins or the Chiefs or [another] name is offensive to them, then who are we to say to them ‘No, it’s not’?”
The Redskins would face an uphill battle even if they wanted to change the name, as it would be a lengthy process requiring the approval of league officials and the sorting out of contracts with other franchise owners and many sponsors. The NFL in particular exerts wide-ranging control over professional football trademarks.
BY THE NUMBERS: Opinion polls show the public, and even native Americans in particular, are not as worked up on the subject as those pressing for change. An Associated Press-GfK poll in May revealed that 79% of respondents preferred that the Washington Redskins keep their name, while only 11% wanted it changed.
A 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll of Native Americans found that 91% were not bothered by the Redskins name.
A recent story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch found that even Indian tribes located in nearby Virginia were not incensed over the name. Said Robert Green, chief of the Patawomeck Tribe: “It doesn’t bother me. About 98 percent of my tribe is Redskins fans, and it doesn’t offend them, either.”
MEDIA MAYHEM: Over the summer, left-leaning magazines The New Republic and Mother Jones — not ordinarily thought of as influential venues for sports journalism — vowed not to use the team's name.
The online magazine Slate.com joined the boycott, saying: “While the name Redskins is only a bit offensive, it’s extremely tacky and dated — like an old aunt who still talks about 'colored people.'"
In August, Rachel Maddow referred to the team as the "R-Word" during an entire segment of her MSNBC show.
The debate can create odd situations. When ESPN broadcast the National Scrabble Championship in 2004, it disallowed use of the word "redskin" (among with 170 other words) by players during televised coverage of the final rounds. "Redskin" remains on Scrabble's "Poo List" of words omitted from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary.
With little apparent room for compromise on either side, the issue seems destined to be played out in the media. ESPN Magazine's Peter Keating recent comment is indicative of those seeking change: "Of course 'Redskin' is racist .... Your real argument is that your enjoyment of the team's name, and your connection to its folklore, is more important than its genocidal history."
MASCOT MADNESS: Other professional teams have used native-American symbols with less controversy. The Atlanta Braves baseball team — which adopted the name in 1912 when it was still in Boston — dropped the "screaming Indian" logo in the late 1980s but has retained the tomahawk symbol.
The Braves also retired the on-field mascot "Chief Noc-A-Homa" in 1986. Noc-a-Homa "lived" in a teepee at the team's home field and danced whenever a Brave hit a home run. The team's mascot is now decidedly generic.
Braves fans are known for performing the "tomahawk chop," a move which player Deion Sanders bought to Atlanta from his alma mater at Florida State.
The Cleveland Indians adopted the name in 1914. Protests in the late 90s tried to agitate for change, but were not successful, and the "Chief Wahoo" character remains on the team's jerseys and logos.
The Chicago Blackhawks hockey franchise have used the "Tommy Hawk" mascot and logo since their founding in 1926, with only minor modifications over that time.
The Golden State Warriors used an Indian cartoon as its logo (pictured above) when they were the Philadelphia Warriors from 1946 to 1962, but dropped the Indian symbolism when they moved west. Their logo now features the Golden Gate Bridge.
COLLEGIATE CONTROVERSIES: In recent years the NCAA has used its bureaucratic muscle to force change on member institutions. In 2005 it ordered 20 schools to cease using native-American names and symbols unless they obtained permission from tribal authorities. (Pictured, Illinois's Chief Illiniwek)
The University of Illinois dropped the "Chief Illiniwek" mascot in 2007 after 81 years in the face of an NCAA threat to ban the school from hosting postseason events. The school still uses the "Fighting Illini" nickname.
Florida State University's athletic program has used the name Seminoles since 1947, and the Cimarron character and spear-tip image still adorns jerseys and logos.
FSU had used the "Sammy Seminole" mascot until 1972, replacing him with Osceola and Renegade (pictured) in 1978. The university sought and received the blessing of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to use the new mascot, but other Seminole groups remain against its use.
North Dakota citizens voted in 2012 to discontinue the use of the 82-year-old "Fighting Sioux" brand at North Dakota Univerity. At the time, some Indian tribes supported retaining the name.
Arkansas State University had used the Indians nickname since 1931, and games included appearances by "Chief Big Track." The school switched to the Red Wolves in 2008.
Other schools managed to secure the support of affiliated tribes to retain their mascots. Central Michigan University kept its Chippewas nickname, while the University of Utah (pictured) remains the home of the Utes.
Small colleges have also grappled with the issue. Knox College changed its name from the long-used Siwash to the Prairie Fire in 1993, a move that upset some older alumni. The name Siwash was derived from a Chinook Indian word used by European traders, and popularized by George Fitch's Saturday Evening Post stories.
Hundreds of high school teams across the country use derivations of "Indians" and "Chiefs" or specific tribal names for their sports franchises. Pictured, the gymnasium of Goshen High School in Indiana, where the "Redskins" play.
Updated: Aug. 15, 2013

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