There have been many discussions this offseason about the pro football team from Washington regarding whether their nickname is racist and what, if anything, they should be doing about it. The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, vowed to USA Today that he would never change the nickname as long as he owns it. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement in June standing by Snyder and stating that the public misunderstands the meaning of the team’s particular nickname and that it is actually a symbol of pride and was originally a tribute to the team’s first coach, who was (supposedly) of Native American decent.
At face value, that explanation has some merit. Certainly the public can understand the tribute that the team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, wanted to give to the team’s original head coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, when he changed the then-Boston Braves nickname in 1933. That is, until you find out that Marshall was widely known as “the leading racist in the NFL.” Marshall once said, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” In fact, the only reason that Marshall ever integrated his team in 1962 (16 years after the rest of the league), was because of an ultimatum from then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that the team’s lease at the city-owned stadium would be terminated. Quite an accomplishment in an era that was loaded with rich, white, inherently racist owners.
Regardless, let’s say that the original intent did have good meaning behind it (ignoring the controversy exposing Dietz as a draft-dodging white man posing as a Native American). As easy as it may be to make the connection, the term “Redskin” is not equivalent to the N-word (otherwise we would call it the R-word). But what if the team’s first head coach were Chinese? Would they have called themselves the Washington Chinamen? What if he were mixed race, would they be the Washington Mulattoes? What if Eddie Gaedel, baseball’s first little person ballplayer, had gotten into coaching football instead? Would they have called themselves the Washington Midgets? Ignorant as it may have been, these were certainly acceptable terms at the time, but would Daniel Snyder have the guts now to stand by them as the team’s nickname and mascot? Would the commissioner be issuing statements saying that he is proud of the Washington Midgets’ nickname and mascot is because it is actually honoring Eddie Gaedel?
So why is it that Daniel Snyder doesn’t see what the rest of us see? Why does he think it’s a non-issue when many members of the media write article after article wondering when he will get it? The reason is because those same articles ranting about the nickname being racist continue to use the word over and over again in the same article. If you have come to a realization that the term is racist, why would you write the word ten times in an article about how racist it is? Are we not proving Snyder correct by not changing the way that we speak and write about his team?
It is time to stop enabling Daniel Snyder. If he’s going to stand by his team’s racist moniker, the onus is on the people who talk about the team for a living to get the ball rolling downhill and see what happens. I’m not saying that everyone in the media needs to start calling them the R-Words, but you also don’t have to continue to use an offensive word. You can work around the word. You can passively remove it from your speech. Call them “Washington”, “the team from Washington”, or my personal favorite “the Snyderskins”. What? I’m just honoring the team’s owner. Surely he doesn’t find anything offensive about that, right?