Has there been a “Bountygate” to intentionally injure players and damage their livelihoods like the New Orleans Saints perpetrated?
Or, the worst of all, has there been a sexual predator who raped countless boys and was protected from prosecution for years like Penn State did?
No, the Washington Redskins team name has been called racist, and there is a call for an immediate change.
The Meaning: The term “Redskin” was originally not a racial slur, according to Smithsonian Insitution senior linguist Ives Goddard. Goddard said the first usages were by Native Americans who wanted to differentiate themselves from the white men who were stealing their lands and suppressing their culture.
Meskwaki chief Black Thunder said, “I have never injured you, and innocence can feel no fear. I turn to all red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me” to President James Madison’s envoys over a land dispute on July 22, 1815. That was the first time the term was printed.
At the end of the 18th Century, University of Connecticut historian Nancy Shoemaker said Native Americans used the term with pride to distinguish themselves as being North America’s original inhabitants.
The name, however, then took on disparaging undertones as bounty hunters needed proof for their kills, and the ‘redskin’ (often scalps or genitalia) were accepted.
These bounties were part of the ethnic genocide that decimated Native Americans. According to George Mason University’s History News Network, University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill said “The reduction of the North American Indian population from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900 represents a vast genocide ... the most sustained on record.”
Plus, Hollywood and the media didn’t help by saying things like “red-skinned devils” and portraying Native Americans as bloodthristy savages.
The Franchise: The Washington Redskins began as the Boston Braves in 1933.
Owner George Preston Marshall changed it to the Boston Redskins the following year and moved the franchise to D.C. in 1937.
Marshall was a well-known racist who participated in a gentlemen’s agreement to keep black athletes out of the NFL from 1934-1945 and refused to sign a black player until 1962.
What changed Marshall’s mind? Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy told him unless he signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins’ 30-year lease on their stadium that was being paid by the government and owned by the city government.
Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis didn’t want to play for “that s.o.b,” so he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, ironically a former Fighting Illini, was the Redskins’ first black player.
Marshall might have partially changed the name to cater the the South, as the Skins was the southernmost NFL franchise for years and even had the Confederate flag in the stadium.
Back in 1967, the Redskins trademarked that name.
The Protesting: Many groups, including some Native American tribes, have been protesting the Redskins name for years since the early 1970s.
The main protester is Suzan Shown Harjo. She helped five plaintiffs file a civil suit with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in 1992, but ultimately lost the suit because the judges thought too much time passed from the granting of the trademark to the filing of the claim.
If the claim were approved, the Redskins couldn’t solely profit from the name, thus losing loads of money.
The claim went through numerous appeals and rulings, and finally the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2009.
Harjo refiled a new case in 2006 with 18- to 24-year-old Native Americans, and it’s up against the board once again.
What she is trying to do is show the name is offensive to an ethnic group and is a part of institutional racism.
“I don’t think they wake up or go to sleep dreaming of ways to hurt native people,” Harjo told CBS D.C. back in May. “I think they wake up and go to sleep thinking of ways to make money — off hurting native people.”
Citizens going through the legal system and using their First Amendment rights to protest are the proper channels, but Congress and President Barack Obama are getting into this debate.
Obama told The Associated Press if he were the owner, he would “consider changing the name.” And many other Congressmen agree with this.
Politicians should keep out of this. They have bigger fish to fry as the country is still at war in Afghanistan, struggling economically, falling apart educationally and on the brink of defaulting.
What will happen. Washington owner Dan Snyder maintains he will never change the name, but his stance has softened as he wants to talk to members of the Oneida Nation, the main tribe protesting the name.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell supported the name in front of Congress back in May, but said Sunday on ESPNDallas.com “We need to see what we can do. We need to listen; we need to engage and try to understand what it is.”
Many sports writers are refusing to write Redskins, though it’s a bit hollow coming from the Kansas City Star as the paper still has no problem referring to its football team as the Chiefs.
The name is disparaging, but the team doesn’t have the same pressures as a high school or college that receives federal funding.
The Redskins are a private business, and hopefully they can make an organizational decision without Washington bullying them to seem important.
The politically correct movement and financial pressures will eventually end the Redskins name in the near future.
When that happens, teams like the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks will be next.