This post was originally published on July 30, 2009.
I consider myself a tolerant person, perhaps even bordering on overly PC. Sure, I’m not perfect, but I genuinely cringe at the malicious use of any racial slur and personally support legislation that restricts organized “hate speech.” Of course, that’s a controversial legal stance to say the least. Where does freedom of speech end and sanctuary against persecution begin? Likewise, are there differences between positive and negative freedom that need be taken into account; even in a society founded on the principles of liberty? Perhaps, but this blog post isn’t about that.
What this blog post is about is, in no small part, my favorite NFL team: the Washington Redskins. I think you see where I’m going with this…
There are few things I enjoy more on a Sunday afternoon than Clinton Portis busting his way in for a touchdown. Moreover I grew up around DC, and watching the ‘Skins play reminds me of being encapsulated in the culture of my youth (not to mention a place with a much milder winter than Boston). I may go as far to say the team holds the same sentimental value as a keepsake or heirloom from my old house. Indeed, I don’t think I became a true fan until after I left.
Despite all that, it is undeniable that the franchise name, the foundation for its brand, is completely and utterly derogatory on an unacceptable level. The term “Redskin,” though its exact origins are vague, is widely thought to be a byproduct of European colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries. As one might guess, it probably wasn’t used in the most friendly of circumstances (Note: understatement). In contemporary times, it’s the sort of thing you would be shocked to hear someone call any member of any tribe, particularly to their face. It’s the equivalent of calling an African American “Colored” or referring to someone of Southeast Asian descent as “Yellow.”
And yet the brand has withstood the collective tests of time, law, and finance. It was coined in 1933, back when the team was coincidentally located in Boston; and inspired by the then “Boston Braves” baseball team. It’s rumored that coach William “Lone Star” Dietz came up with it (his mother may or may not have been Sioux). Likewise, past success on the field has brought the team a loyal fan base, keeping ticket sales high and the seats at FedEx field filled. Lawsuits by individuals and civil rights organizations alike have born no fruit.
So naturally, from a business standpoint, there is little incentive to change the name. Thousands of hats, jerseys, and various other pieces of paraphernalia embellished with the brand sell like hotcakes. The fans don’t seem to mind it, and no major authority inside the league or otherwise has condemned it in any forceful way.
Needless to say, though, if a new team were to start today with a name like “The Dallas Blacks,” it’s highly unlikely that there wouldn’t be justified outrage. So I’m left scratching my head as to why the football team of our nation’s capital gets away with it. Perhaps it’s a lack of education, or too small a push from those the name actually may offend; or perhaps it’s the same justification we often use for many of the sillier things we do: tradition.
Then again, maybe the problem is me. After all, in spite of how I feel about the name, I’m still a fan of the team. Food for thought.
P.S. And at least our logo isn’t as bad as Cleveland’s “Chief Wahoo.”