Feb 7

Something else I have feels about: Redskins

If you’re a Redskins fan, I’m not interested in picking a fight. It seems fan allegiance overpowers the pain it represents to others. I just have feels, and they justify why I’ll never be a fan. A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

Dave said: I must say that I agree with this…

"The word Redskin was taught to me at a very young age, and this is the meaning it has for me.

“I am a Native American. I grew up on an Indian reservation. As a child, the United States Government and the Catholic Church came into our homes, took us away from our families, and forced us into Catholic boarding schools. There was no choice to be had in this matter, you had to go. The Catholic Church with the blessings of the United States Government took it upon themselves to determine that we were savages, and needed to be transformed to fit into their society.

“When my hair was cut short by the priests, I was called a “redskin” and a savage. When I spoke my native tongue, I was beaten and called “redskin”. When I tried to follow the spiritual path of my people, I was again beaten and called a “redskin”. I was told by them to turn my back on the ways of my people, or I would forever be nothing but a dirty “redskin”.

“The only way “redskin” was ever used towards my people and myself was in a derogatory manner. It was never, ever, used in a show of respect or kindness. It was only used to let you know that you were dirty and no good, and to this day still is.

“A long time ago, a group of people who had no knowledge of these facts, and who put no thought into what “redskin” actually meant chose to use this word for their mascot. A new group of people, now being confronted about it, have somehow decided it is their decision to change the meaning of this word to fit their purposes and agendas, but again have put no thought into its true meaning or what this word means to Native Americans.”

—by Clem Ironwing, Sioux

Click through to read my and some other responses:

So, here were some of the comments. Of course, there were varying opinions. There were 27 replies, but only a few are shown here for relevance. Excuse my verbosity, but apparently I had a lot of feels:

Cody said: My grandfather had the catholic religion beat into him as a child in a native american boarding school. I totally agree with Clem Ironwing’s statement. I don’t understand why it’s ok to treat some groups of people like shit (homosexuals, native americans, poor and/or homeless) but not others? I mean come on, if there were a football team called the Detroit Darkies that shit would not stand.

Michele said: My old high school team dropped the RED part from their name in the 90s. Went from the “Wellesley Red Raiders” ~logo of a red-faced native man to the “Wellesley Raiders” ~new logo a pirate character. Bring the change! Let’s stop dishonoring communities in the name of sportsball!

Rachel said: Dave, thank you. This is a serious issue for us and as you can see, it’s rarely taken seriously… I appreciate it from the bottom of my little Algonquin/Tsalagi/Chickasaw Metalhead heart. \m/

Dean said: Lol at all the people that disagree with it, then go out and buy their jerseys, tickets and products.

Richard (Dick) said: sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. get over yourself and get back to work!

Troy said: words are meaningless. its the context that matters. this is about football not hatred. no one thinks theres really indans on the field.

I said: Here’s the context: A team mascot is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of your opponents. I don’t want to get hit by a Ram. I don’t want to deal with a bucking Bronco, or a Bear, or a Panther, or an Eagle, or get squashed by a Giant, or so on. Sometimes the mascot name can indicate a characteristic. You can’t catch Jets, stay out of the way of Chargers, the 49er gold rushers were tenacious and cut-throat, Buccaneers and Raiders give no quarter, and so on. The name Redskins was chosen in 1931 and put into the league in 1932, a time when most peoples’ exposure to Native Americans was through stories of the west, and the burgeoning film industry, which wouldn’t even hire “Indians” to play “Indians”. It was, and is still, a term that denotes a caste of people who are below other citizens’ status. Outside of potatoes, no one would define a “Redskin” as anything but a Native American. And to further that, its use as a mascot denotes that you should fear “Redskins” on the field. 1932 was a different time. Segregation was law. Blacks were not allowed to serve in the military with whites, they had separate units. Miscegenation laws were in effect in most states, forbidding the marriage of people not of the same race. It’s an embarrassment for our country that one of the most-purchased sports merchandise entities is not only a mascot of a people, but a derogatory term at that. History proves, despite Hollywood’s portrayal, that most cowboys were black during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Wrangling cattle across hundreds of miles was hard, low-paying work, and most white cowboys of the time were family, not hired hands. Being black, most cowboys were referred to with a different derogatory term, still used today. That being the historical case, what if that other team was the Dallas N!@@#&$? This isn’t about being “PC”. It’s a word that was used to demean and hate. Whether you feel that way or not about it, it STILL MEANS THAT TO A WHOLE GROUP OF PEOPLE, and there are still white people who use it as a slur today. There are other offensive team names, however THIS name for the team from OUR COUNTRY’S CAPITAL?! Just archaic.

And frankly, it’s humiliating that my city, a city so mired with blatant racial inequity like Washington D.C., fought so hard to bring the Redskins training camp here in the near future. This city offered so much in trade for potential tax revenue, which predictably, will end up benefiting mostly the surrounding counties. Our minor league baseball team used to be the farm team for the Atlanta Braves. I guess since we lost that franchise, we needed to somehow recoup a racially derogatory sports entity. Way to go, RVA!

Paul said: The name Redskins is not a derogatory term. The mascot is supposed to strike fear in the opponents heart.

I said: I misspoke earlier: They weren’t the Redskins at first, they were the Boston Braves for their first year, 1932. They shared a baseball field with baseball’s Boston Braves. Once again, we are using an entire caste of people to purport an image of savagery and fear. The insinuation is that Indian Brave is certainly to be feared: He means to kill you! The next year they moved to Fenway Park to share a stadium with the Boston Red Sox. To avoid fan confusion as to which field they should go, the name needed to change. No one was going to fear a team because they were wearing red socks, so they needed a name that invoked the shared field. Redskins had red in it, and was synonymous with Indians. 5 years later the team was wooed to share the Washington Senators field. There was talk about changing the name of the team to the Senators, however Redskins sounded a lot more menacing than Senators. Obviously they weren’t encumbered with Strom Thurmond yet! It doesn’t matter if the first person to use the term for the team truly meant the despicable derogatory term, or some kind of benign fear to be struck because you were facing a team of Indians, they used an entire People as a basis to strike fear, generalizing that of course you should fear Redskins. The term has indisputably been widely used on Reservations by white people for well over a century to reinforce to the First Americans that they are the lowest class of Americans. I have never seen the term portrayed in a Western as anything but referring to a vile person that the utterer doesn’t trust. The term n!@@&# comes from lazy-tongue mispronunciation of the Spanish slave-traders word for black, which is negro. In a time of widespread illiteracy, the word slowly got changed. Some used it simply to infer a person’s color, like we use black today. Others used it as a purely derogatory term. Most of us can agree it’s too derogatory a word to be used as a sports name. In 1933 this country didn’t tuck away blacks on tracts of land where they wouldn’t be seen. Blacks were a major part of the economy, be it by low-wage labor, or relying on their spending their money in the economy. They were an inescapable part of the everyday culture. Native Americans, on the other hand, were tucked away, and as recently my generation, in the 1970s and 80s, were taught by white school teachers on the reservations that they are not first-class citizens. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, who is only 3 years older than me, based on his experiences growing up on the Spokane Reservation, is heart-breaking. He details his second-class citizenship during the 70s and 80s. But he’ll make you laugh. You may know him as the author and producer of a movie called “Smoke Signals.” Sherman Alexie knows damn well the hatred frequently used behind the word Redskin, as does Clem Ironwing, the author whose words started this post. No one would stand for a non-derogatory use of other races/castes/religions as a team name: The Baltimore Blacks? The Memphis African Americans? The Oklahoma Jews? The Annaheim Chinese? The Portland Muslims? The Milwaukee Greeks? The Norfolk Aborigines? The Newark Hispanics? That shit would not fly!