Andrew, what I don’t understand about the tempest-in-a-dollhouse-size-teapot over “Redskins” is that even supporters of a name change admit that it would be a solution to a non-existent problem. (Conservative ones, anyway; most liberals advocate a name change simply to bust chops, if you’ll pardon the expression, or in hopes that they’ll be spared the necessity of finding a new team to root for.)
Phil Mushnick, a New York Post sports columnist who is one of the most consistent advocates you’ll find for fair play and traditional values, and against cant and hypocrisy, opposes the nickname on the quite reasonable grounds that “no right-headed adult of any political bent would address a Native American to his or her face as ‘redskin.’ ” Fair enough — but if, after 80 years of the team in our nation’s capital being called Redskins, use of that word to refer to Native Americans has dwindled to virtually nothing, doesn’t that show that the nickname has been pretty harmless?
Charles Krauthammer, in a column that repeatedly acknowledges the good intentions of those who want to keep the name, draws a pertinent parallel: “Fifty years ago the preferred, most respectful term for African-Americans was Negro. . . . The preferred term is now black or African American. With a rare few legacy exceptions, Negro carries an unmistakably patronizing and demeaning tone.” Presumably by “legacy exceptions” he is referring to the Negro Leagues, which, under that name, are now embraced by Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame and have their own museum in Kansas City. But if we can grant an exception (or “waiver,” in Washington lingo) to the Negro Leagues, why can’t we do the same for the Redskins?
The non-hectoring case against “Redskins” boils down to this: The word is not inherently offensive, and nobody uses it anymore, but the name should be changed because it’s just wrong. Since Krauthammer and Mushnick went out of their way to accept their opponents’ sincerity, I will do the same for them and concede that “it’s just wrong” can be a very good reason in many situations. But in this case I don’t think it applies, because nobody today thinks of “Redskins” as anything but a football team.
(The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, are another matter. Every loyal Republican should agitate for a new nickname, since the current one is a reference to the Democratic party. As for the Indians, I defer to my colleague Nick Frankovich, a staunch Tribe fan since the days of Sudden Sam McDowell, though I will note that Cleveland management seems to be at least tentatively sounding out fan opinion on the team’s distinctive Chief Wahoo logo.)