Since the 1970s, there has been an on-and-off public debate about the appropriateness or offensiveness of the Washington D.C. football team’s name, the Redskins.
The debate has a polarizing effect due to the racial implications and the fact there is no compromise to come to — Native Americans want it changed, and the football team won’t do it.
The staunch refusal to change the name by team owner Dan Snyder is actually quite surprising. His denial of the term as a racial slur and his adamant fighting against the movement suggest that, for him, the fight isn’t about branding or heritage, it’s simply about winning.
There is no “winning.”
There is simply doing what’s right.
For the team owner to repeatedly claim they will never change the name because it is not offensive, despite strong push-back from Native American communities, public opinion and common decency, and to continue to demean their culture is inhumane.
The people who get to decide if something is offensive or not are not the people who are referred to, not the people who use the term. In a matter as serious as this, such a thing should be obvious.
The ability to use or not use such a term rests solely on that same faction of people. Native Americans have uniformly said the name Redskins is offensive and oppressive. The only thing to do is to change it.
The media also has a choice, as well. According to CBS Sports, writer Phil Simmons has just recently started avoiding the name, and longtime sports writer Mike Carey has refused to use the name for decades.
The name must change. Fans of the team and those who benefit from the Redskins’ marketing plans might try to deny it. They might claim the brand is more important than millions of oppressed people.
But the sports world is no stranger to reinvention. The Washington Redskins were originally known as the Boston Redskins, according to TheHogs.net, a trusted source for news from the team. Why cling so tightly to this racist branding when it was so easy to change before?
People aren’t going to stop being fans of the team, they aren’t going to stop buying tickets and, if anything, it will just give fans another reason to buy all-new merchandise.
The refusal to change is the refusal to admit the racist ideas of the past. You do more harm now by ignoring them than you would by changing them.
But if Snyder still claims he will never change the name, then the responsibility falls to us. We can’t change the outfits or the giant sign on the park. But we can change what we write. Newspapers, ESPN and sports reporting of all kinds use the name as often as anyone, and each time they do so they condone the use of a racial slur.
The solution that we as the media, and as sensitive humans, can enact is to stop using that slur. Call the team what they are: the Washington football team.
Refer to them by their colors: white, burgundy and gold. Just because Snyder refuses to respect the millions of Native Americans does not mean we should help him.
We will see how much his branding helps when his team has no name at all.