Is "Redskins" offensive?


The latest PC campaign to declare words "offensive" seems to be
the campaign to get the Washington NFL team, nicknamed the Redskins,
to change their name.
I note that an American Indian leader makes the argument that
when his ancestors were persecuted,
those who persecuted them called them "Redskins",
evidently using that as an epithet.

But if "Redskins" is a currently a pejorative,
then why is the fight song for that football team
"Hail to the Redskins"?
It seems this reflects an entirely positive view of "Redskins",
whether it refers to the football team who is borrowing the name,
or the ethnic and demographic group so (informally) sometimes designated.

There are several slurs possible in our language.
But "Redskins" does most certainly not seem to be one in current usage.
If it once was, that is one thing.
But is not what is relevant how the word is currently used?
If it is not currently used to produce negative connotations,
then what is to complain about?

But here is a different idea that
those perturbed by the use of the term “Redskins” by the Washington NFL team
might want to consider.
Its owner, Daniel Snyder,
by his rather vehement opposition to changing the name,
seems to have indicated that the name is of market value to him.
Not only football games,
but also a large number of souvenirs of various types are sold by the team,
all with the Redskins label, and all bringing him money.
He is using a name which refers to a certain group,
without their permission,
and making money off of it.

I am no lawyer,
but it seems to me a moral case, and perhaps a legal one as well,
can be made that
if he (via his predecessors) has appropriated a name for an identifiable group
and is using that name in his business,
then that group is entitled to royalties on the use of their name.
The group could then negotiate with Snyder:
Either give them an agreed-upon royalty fee for the use of their name,
or cease and desist from using it.

In other words, the real problem, in my view,
isn’t that Snyder is somehow offending native Americans,
it is that he is profiting from a term clearly referring to them
without compensating them.


Some Native Americans have been quoted as saying "They are no one's mascot",
referring to the Washington Redskins name.
A demonstration on 2014-11-02 in Minnesota
found Native American demonstrators yelling "Not your mascots".
But how offensive, intrinsically, is it to be the name of a NFL team?
Let's consider the set of examples.

Many NFL teams are, of course, named for animals,
lions, tigers, bears, eagles, falcons, cardinals, and so on.
But several are named for identifiable groups of humans.
I classify these into broad categories:

Heroic Groups
Boston Patriots, New Orleans Saints
American Groups
San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans
Ethnic Groups
Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs (put here because of their association with Native Americans)
Possibly Rogue Groups
Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mythological Figures
New York Giants, Tennessee Titans

Well, there certainly is a range of types there.
But I don't see why it is so bad to be grouped with
saints, patriots, cowboys, 49ers, and Texans.
Ironically, redskins were often in conflict with cowboys and European Texans.
The NFL, in my view, honors all these groups
by naming teams after them.

By the way, one may wonder if those protesting the name "Redskins"
would be happier if the team were named
the Washington Native Americans.


New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name
By John Woodrow Cox, Scott Clement and Theresa Vargas
Washington Post, 2016-05-18

Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team’s moniker.

The survey of 504 people across every state and the District reveals that the minds of Native Americans have remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the exact same result. Responses to The Post’s questions about the issue were broadly consistent regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations.

Among the Native Americans reached over a five-month period ending in April, more than 7 in 10 said they did not feel the word “Redskin” was disrespectful to Indians. An even higher number — 8 in 10 — said they would not be offended if a non-native called them that name.


“Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL’s decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image,” wrote Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata. “However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur — one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots.”

They noted research that shows the harmful impact native imagery in sports can have on young Indians.

“Social science research and first-hand experience has told us that this kind of denigration has both visible and unseen consequences for Native Americans in this country,” their statement said. “This is especially the case for children, who were not polled and who are in a particularly vulnerable position to be bullied by the NFL. It is the 21st century — it is long overdue for Native Americans to be treated not as mascots or targets of slurs, but instead as equals.”

[I see. Does calling the New Orleans NFL team the "Saints" denigrate saints?
Does calling the Dallas NFL team "Cowboys" denigrate those Americans who are cowboys (there are still some)?
Do those cowboys feel hurt by being treated as mascots?
Does calling the New Englans NFL team "Patriots" denigrate those so described?]


“I’m proud of being Native American and of the Redskins,” said Barbara Bruce, a Chippewa teacher who has lived on a North Dakota reservation most of her life. “I’m not ashamed of that at all. I like that name.”

Bruce, 70, has for four decades taught her community’s schoolchildren, dozens of whom have gone on to play for the Turtle Mountain Community High School Braves. She and many others surveyed embrace native imagery in sports because it offers them some measure of attention in a society where they are seldom represented. Just 8 percent of those canvassed say such depictions bother them.

[A brief history of the word ‘redskin’ and how it became controversial]

Even as the name-change movement gained momentum among influential people, The Post’s survey and more than two dozen subsequent interviews make clear that the effort failed to have anywhere near the same impact on Indians.

Across every demographic group, the vast majority of Native Americans say the team’s name does not offend them, including 80 percent who identify as politically liberal, 85 percent of college graduates, 90 percent of those enrolled in a tribe, 90 percent of non-football fans and 91 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39.

Even 9 in 10 of those who have heard a great deal about the controversy say they are not bothered by the name.

What makes those attitudes more striking: The general public appears to object more strongly to the name than Indians do.

In a 2014 national ESPN poll, 23 percent of those reached called for “Redskins” to be retired because of its offensiveness to Native Americans — more than double the 9 percent of actual Native Americans who now say they are offended by it.

A 2013 Post poll found that a higher proportion of Washington-area residents — 28 percent — wanted the moniker changed.


[Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter], a key figure and financier in the fight against Snyder, has described the issue as one of the most important facing his people.

“It is critical,” he wrote in a 2013 Post op-ed. “Indeed, precisely because it is so critical, this campaign is not going away, no matter how much the NFL or Snyder wants it to.”

But an overwhelming majority of Native Americans disagree, with just 1 in 10 saying they consider the issue “very important.”


Labels: ,