No matter, the Redskins controversy is garnering nationwide attention. Even President Obama is weighing in on the issue.
Obama said if he owned the NFL team in Washington, he would consider dropping Redskins from the team’s name. Dave Letterman, in making reference to the federal government shutdown, joked that the name Washington in itself is offensive.
Team owner Dan Snyder is vowing to keep the Redskins name. He wrote in a letter to season ticket holders: “I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means.”
Criticism of the name Redskins has been going on for years, but recently the Oneida Indian Campaign launched a drive to get Washington to change its nickname, saying that it is offensive to American Indians.
NBC sportscaster Bob Costas on Sunday night spoke out against the nickname, calling it an “insult and racial slur.”
As a boy growing up in the Pittsburgh area, I remember the Steelers often playing the Redskins and not giving much thought to the nickname. In fact, I liked the feathers on their helmets.
But times have changed and I can see the Oneida Nation’s point. The name is offensive.
The time has come to change the name. Surely, it can’t be that difficult to come up with a new nickname for the Washington team.
Some people might question other nicknames by major league teams such as the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and MLB’s Atlanta Braves. Those names don’t degrade the American Indians.
“The name of Washington’s team is a dictionary-defined offensive racial epithet. Those other names aren’t,” Oneida representative Ray Halbritter told The Associated Press.
I give credit to the NCAA for taking a firm stance against inappropriate nicknames and putting pressure on college teams to change their nicknames if they were deemed to be degrading. St. John’s University comes to mind. The university changed its nickname to the Red Storm. They were called the Redmen.
Sometimes, the NCAA has to exert its muscles more forcefully.
The NCAA took on the University of North Dakota, which had refused to drop the name the Fighting Sioux. University officials contended that the nickname wasn’t offensive, but a source of pride.
Wealthy North Dakota alumnus Ralph Engelstad donated $100 million to construct a hockey arena for the university. One of his conditions was that the university keep the Fighting Sioux name and Indian-head logo. The arena opened in 2001.
But Engelstad’s condition didn’t stop the NCAA from taking action. The NCAA threatened the university with sanctions if it didn’t drop the nickname.
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education in 2009 approved a motion to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
But the controversy didn’t end then.
The state Senate entered the fray and voted in March 2011 to keep the nickname. The measure was even signed by the governor. But the law was repealed during a special session of the North Dakota Legislature in November 2011.
Finally, in 2012 the issue was put before a vote of the people. A majority of North Dakota voters chose to retire the Fighting Sioux name and its logo.
The university board in June voted to get rid of the name and logo. The university isn’t allowed to adopt a new name until 2015.
I can understand the loyalty to a team’s nickname. I didn’t like it when Southgate High School changed its nickname to the Titans after it merged with Schafer High School. We were the Southgate Sabers; not the sword, but the saber-tooth tiger. I thought that was a great nickname, one that very few other schools had.
And I still find myself sometimes calling the Eastern Michigan University athletic teams the Hurons. They changed their name to the Eagles.
I know that Dan Snyder feels that the Redskins name is steep in history, a name that has been around a long time. But, hopefully, Snyder will realize that a more appropriate nickname will go a long way in soothing the feelings of the many people who oppose the nickname.
Who knows? He might even develop some new fans.
— By Len Painter, editor emeritus