If you live in Washington, Maryland, or Virginia you are aware of the ongoing fight against Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins. The demands are to change the name of the Redskins to… well the options on Twitter are endless.
— Bio L. (@Bio_1209) July 9, 2020
Nonetheless, you best snap up your Redskin’s trademarked jerseys and foam fingers, because the much-hated name will soon be a thing of the past.
We should care about the name change, but do we care about football?
Despite actions from petitions to Presidential pleas, the Washington football team owner Dan Snyder has steadfastly refused to change the name. A name which millions of Americans, find disparaging. But not everyone agrees.
In October 2013, President Obama said:
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
Then-President Obama, a known sports fan, endorsed the name change:
“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments today are historic,” said Ray Halbritter, a representative for the Oneida Indian Nation, which has launched a “Change the Mascot” campaign against the team. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”
One wonders if Obama was aware that Zema Williams (July 7, 1941 – July 19, 2016), who was known as Chief Zee, was a well-known fan and unofficial mascot of the Washington Redskins. Dressed in a faux Native American war bonnet, rimmed glasses, and red jacket, Chief Zee began attending Redskins games in 1978.
Homage to Native Americans or racial slur?
Reporting in Race, Ethnicity and Education Journal (June 2020) researchers found that about 2,000 teams in the United States use Native American images as “mascots.” And that delegating our indigenous nation to mascot status contributes to low self-esteem, depression and stress in Native students while reinforcing stereotypes among non-Native students.
The official mascot of the Washington Redskins
Walter “Blackie” Wetzel is the chairman of the Blackfeet Nation and president of the National Congres of American Indians is the person who suggested, in 1971, that the image of a Native American Chief on the Redskins helmet.
That Indian Chief was Blackfeet Chief Two Guns White Calf. The image, taken around 1912, is believed to be the inspiration for both the Indian Head Nickle and the modern Washington Redskins football team logo. The resemblance is easy to see.
Jacob Wetzel, great-grandson of Blackie Wetzel, and a Great Falls High School and University of Providence alumnus, said that while the name change is “long overdue,” he’s sad to see his family legacy go.
From the Great Falls Tribune:
“Although the name is offensive to many and can be used as a derogatory and hateful term, I do believe the logo represented Native people in a positive way, especially when compared to some other logos across the sports world,” he said. “Times are changing, and, yeah, it’s difficult, but I understand why they are going in a different direction.”
The National Congress of American Indians, of which Blackie was once president, commended the NFL team for “eliminating a brand that disrespected, demeaned and stereotyped all Native people.”
“We are not mascots — we are Native people, citizens of more than 500 tribal nations who have stood strong for millennia and overcome countless challenges to reach this pivotal moment in time when we can help transform America into the just, equitable, and compassionate country our children deserve,” the organization said in a statement.
A many decades-old fight to change Washington Redskins
The fight to change the team’s name is over 40 years old and changes have been made.
One of the first things to go was the long black braids cheerleaders donned before doing a mock rain dance following touch down. The band no longer wears feathered headdresses and the lyrics “scalp ‘em” have been removed from their fight song.
Defending the team’s name, Dan Snyder has steadfastly refused to change the name, saying it “honors” Native Americans.
In an October 2013 letter to fans, he writes:
“Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We have participated in some of the greatest games in NFL history, and have won five World Championships. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing “Hail to the Redskins” in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of “Redskins Nation” in honor of a sports team they love.
So when I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends.
I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81 year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. After 81 years, the team name “Redskins” continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.
We are Redskins Nation and we owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage.”
One element of the Redskin’s “great” history Snyder forgets is that the team’s first owner, George Preston Marshall, changed the name from Braves to Redskins in honor of coach William Dietz. Dietz claimed to be Sioux. It is historically interesting to note that Marshall was the last NFL team owner to resist team integration, carrying an all-white roster until threatened by the federal government in 1961.
Finally moving to change the name
The Redskins is not the first Washington sports team to lose their moniker. In 1997 The NBA’s Washington Bullets became the Wizards after former team owner Abe Pollin voiced concern that the squad’s name was too violent.
In the meantime, all we can do is, is enforce a change from the seats. Don’t buy them. Don’t support the team with ticket sales, buying t-shirts or jerseys or those dumb No. 1 foam fingers. Not only because of their name, but the fact that Dan Snyder has been unable to present a winning team.
From Redskins have lost Washington (December 21, 2019):
“The team’s reign as king of a football town may have ended quite some time ago as Washington amassed one of the worst records in the NFL over the past 25 years. But now the Redskins have fallen so low that they are no longer even in remote contention for top team in their own city.”
Call them the Washington Roses, they still stink.
Editorial by Jacquie Kubin