What’s in a Name? Insensitivity, and a Necessity for Change

The mascot in question, recently garnering much national attention.

Recently, the debate over the controversial usage of the nickname “Redskins” for a football organization has returned to the national spotlight. The Native American community, prominent media members (from within and outside the sports realm), and even the U.S. president have sparked the fiery movement protesting the name, calling on team owner Daniel Snyder to enforce a nickname change.

For the popular franchise that the Redskins are, it’s understandable that Snyder, along with the organization’s fanbase, has met this possible change with harsh resentment. Generations of supporters grew up watching and cheering on this franchise, ingraining a Redskin pride in their lifestyle. A change in the most noticeable part of the team—its mascot—would seemingly disrupt their long-standing passion.

But that’s no reason to continue to endorse a name that blatantly constitutes a racial slur, and of course, all the while ignorantly neglecting its denigrating effect on Native Americans. The term “Redskin” directly refers to someone that has skin resembling that of the color red. Its usage might have been a fad of the 18th century, but now, in the present day, how can a name like that of such racially-insensitive origins–derived from intolerant attitudes–be allowed in any measure? Moreover, how can it sensibly and respectfully be attributed to a multi-million dollar organization, as Dan Snyder has endlessly persisted to do?

Snyder has attempted to quell the dispute over his team’s nickname through an open letter to fans. He cited polls that showed how most people (Native American or not) found no problem in the name “Redskins”, and expressed the sense of pride, courage, and heritage that comes when bearing the name for the team. Specifically, he referred to a poll that revealed 90 percent of surveyed Native Americans saw the name “Redskin” as not offensive.

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The polarizing Daniel Snyder.

And here’s where Snyder, with his childish obstinacy and ignorance in full force, fails to understand a crucial part of this controversy. What matters in the aforementioned poll–the validity of which some have questioned–is not the nine out of ten people who don’t find the name denigrating, but the one person who does. However small the group opposed to the name may be, a harmful sense of disrespect remains tolerated, which serves as enough justification to abolish the nickname.

And whatever happened to a non-Native American using his or her own judgement in a situation like this? Even if the vast majority of this racial group found the name unoffensive, it should not take anything but one’s own sensible rationale to come to the conclusion that the term “Redskin” is impermissible in any setting.

But of course, that’s not the case. The Oneida Indian Nation–which represents at least one Native American community fairly well–has publicly spoken out against Snyder’s refusal to drop this racial slur of a nickname, as well as starting an online campaign against its use. One can only reasonably surmise that there still remains a large Indian population–though perhaps hesitant to express it in surveys by powerful media outlets–that doesn’t take kindly to the name “Redskin”.

Meanwhile, roughly two-thousand miles away in Driggs, Idaho, Teton High School decided to drop the same mascot Snyder continues to employ for his professional football team. The high school came to this conclusion on the basis of encouraging its “students and the community to see beyond skin color and stereotypes”, and respecting those who find the name offensive. So if an obscure high school can express more sensitivity, awareness, and rationality than an NFL team owner, what does that say about the current battle over a team’s logo in our nation’s capital, generated by this owner? Perhaps an intervention by Roger Goodell and the National Football League is in order.

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