The Redskins Controversy

by Michael Potemra

I just saw a report on the wee-hours MSNBC newscast that a paper way out on the West Coast has weighed in against the name “Redskins” — and I realized, tempus fugit, that I have now entered my fourth decade of being a Washington Redskins fan. My first weekend at college, at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., I happened, by accident, to see on TV the Redskins’ first game of that 1981 season, their first game under new coach Joe Gibbs. (Other fellas in the dorm were watching it.) The Redskins lost. I watched the following week; they lost again. I decided that I was going to keep on watching until they won a game. They lost the next three games, and were 0–5 before finally winning one. By that time, I had become hooked — I was a capital-F Fan. You could say I had the ultimate Fan experience: I went through the purgatory of falling in love with the worst team — and saw them become Super Bowl champions at the end of the very next season.

So: What about the name? I do not think the name “Redskins” is offensive in intent (I have literally never heard a Redskins fan express demeaning attitudes about Native Americans, their history, or their culture) or in effect (there is not an objective clamor of a critical mass of Native Americans expressing such offense). One anecdote, not dispositive, of course, but suggestive: In the mid 1990s, my then-girlfriend and I were driving through the glorious American Southwest. Late at night, in a town in the California desert, we went into a liquor store, and saw, behind the counter, a woman with a Washington Redskins shirt on. We were delighted to find a Redskins fan so far from home, and said so. She was puzzled, and then said, “Oh . . . the shirt! That’s not because of the football team, really, it’s a gift from my husband. He’s a Native American.”

As I say, not dispositive. But my own experience with the Redskins’ name should speak for the bona fides of many of us who are fans of the team: Part of the fun of the Redskins–Cowboys rivalry for me was the fact that — as someone who grew up in the midst of the Seventies Romanticism about the white man’s history with the Indians — I got to be on the side of the noble Native Americans, not the land-stealing whites. If my fandom was “transgressive” at all, it was transgressive in the opposite direction from that alleged by those now calling for a name change.

I’m okay with changing the name, if the replacement is an especially cool name; team names aren’t written in stone. But such a change is, in my view, not necessary. If I had to vote, I’d vote to keep the name.

You can call this my own modest blow against Anglo-white hegemony and Eurocentrism.

The Corner

The one and only.