It is obvious that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can follow opinion polls. The Associated Press-GfK poll released in May shows that nationally the “Redskins” name for the NFL’s Washington team still enjoys wide support among the public. That poll revealed that 79 percent favor keeping the name while only 11 percent think it should be changed, with the remainder undecided or indifferent.
Led by U.S. Congressional Native American Caucus leaders, Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), a group of 10 members of Congress in May sent a letter to Goodell urging him to change the name of the Washington franchise because “Redskins” is a “racial, derogatory slur.”
Owner Daniel Snyder has vowed never to change the controversial name and Goodell, in his June response to the letter from members of Congress, fully backed Snyder.
“The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Goodell wrote, according to the huffingtonpost.com. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
However, the issue here goes even beyond the Washington Redskins, who are a signature team in the nation’s capital. I mean has anyone recently looked at the emblem for the Cleveland Indians? It’s almost comical to see the toothy grin on a face that is just as flaming red as the feather that sticks out from behind a head that is far too small. The name “Indians,” the color of the emblem and the shape and size of the head are all insulting and ridiculous.
Why do we continue using terms like “Redskins” and “Indians?” Trying to move away from using the word “Indians” to describe Native Americans isn’t being politically correct. Rather, it is trying to avoid total confusion. For example, just this week there was a story in the huffingtonpost that Britain’s Prince William might have close to one percent Indian DNA. Right away we might ask what tribe is his ancestry, and where in the U.S. did this forebear live. Then we discovered they mean his ancestry is possibly from the Indian subcontinent, and they weren’t referring to his being part American Indian. That is confusing. We have two U.S. governors, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, who are Indian-Americans. Again, don’t bother with tribal affiliation, because they are from the Asian subcontinent. That’s very confusing.
The Native Americans were misnamed Indians because the Europeans who first sighted them thought they had reached India and did not realize they were on a new continent not then known to Europeans. Since the U.S. reformed its immigration system in 1965 to allow a wider range of people to be admitted to the country, the real Indians have moved to America in great numbers, and consequently there is a great necessity to move away from calling the indigenous American population “Indians.”
We are already in the second decade of the 21st century and we are still debating terms like “Redskins” and “Indians.” These words do not honor or describe those natives who were here when the Europeans arrived. “Redskins” does not even define the true skin color of indigenous Americans and “Indian” is labeling a people by a name intended for someone else. These names should have been placed on the ash heap of history a long time ago.
Names like the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves are more ambiguous and probably should be left alone. But any teams named “Indians” or “Redskins” should change their names. They shouldn’t have to be coerced into doing this. They should do it voluntarily because it is the right thing to do. And they should be proactive about it. Why not accept changing the name as a challenge and an opportunity to choose a new name that couldn’t have even existed when the original, now outdated name was first given? That means trying to find an appropriate 21st century name that comes from all the new science and technology that is springing up at an incredible pace.