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'Redskins' and racism

Is it long past time for the Redskins to finally change their name?
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Today the U.S. Patent Office issued a ruling concerning the NFL's Washington Redskins trademark. You can read it HERE.

The overall outcome remains unclear regarding whether or not the team will have to change its name. But many fans are already voicing their outrage at "political correctness" and asking whether or not other terms like "Patriots" or "Braves" or even Saltine "Crackers" will be outlawed (I wish I were making that last one up!).

Regardless of the outcome or any decision made by the NFL or the Redskins organization, I have to ask those who are upset at the prospect of a team name change the following sincere questions:

Would you understand people getting upset by a professional sports team with a grinning, ponytailed Chinese mascot known as the "San Francisco Bucktooths"?

What about one with a plantation slave mascot known as the "Mississippi Darkies"?

How about one with a Hassidic Jewish Mascot known as the "Brooklyn Big Noses"?

Or what about a team with a skrawny nerdy mascot known as the "Connecticut White Boys"?

Would you be outraged of many, many people found these teams' names, maschots and logos offensive? Of course not. Why? Because you likely realize that such terms, based on physical ethnic stereotypes are racism, plain and simple.

So why is "Redskins" any different? Why is a team name based ENTIRELY on the color of a people group's skin something noble at best and harmless at worst?

"Well, what about the Illinois Fighting Illini? Or the Atlanta Braves? Or the FSU Seminoles? Or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish? Will those have to be changed next??"

These are the questions I've heard raised in response. However, I don't believe they are accurate parallels. Terms like "Braves" or "Illini" or "Seminoles" are not inherently racist. They are simply tribal names or types of warriors. They denote a people group perhaps, but not their racial/physical features, particularly in contrast to European/Caucasian features. "Redskins" is in no way a tribal name or a term for warrior. It is loaded with racial abuse connotations. It is culturally insensitive at best and horribly, even violently, racist at worst.

What about "Fighting Irish"?

Well, since most sports are couched in battle/fight/warfare metaphor, "fighting" in and of itself isn't offensive. And "Irish" is not a racial description of a physical feature or a cultural stereotype. It is a term of national citizenship or cultural heritage that is inherently neutral. This would be similar to the "Cleveland Indians"...but not the "Redskins." In order for it to be a valid comparison, they would need to be something like the "Notre Dame Ginger Drunks" (I say that as an redhead of Irish descent, by the way).

But what about those who grew up as Redskins fans and see it as a noble depiction of Native Americans? Why should they have to have their team's name changed because others find it offensive? From a legal perspective perhaps a privately owned team should have the right to call itself whatever it wants. But from a public relations and human decency perspective, there are genuinely compelling reasons not to want your city represented by a national sports team based on a name that is little more than an antiquated racial slur of an indigenous people group who have been brutalized and stolen from for the past four hundred years.

One does't have to be "politically correct" or a bleeding-heart progressive in order to acknowledge this.

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