Dropping the Ball On Respect: Why the Washington Redskins Should Change Its Name
We've Moved! Please visit TheHumanist.com for current humanist news & analysis, or browse our archices below.
Many Americans are preparing this Thanksgiving for food and football—and the movement to change the name of Washington DC’s football team is making national news. Matthew Bulger argues why it’s time to make a change.
Thanksgiving is fast approaching, which means that many Americans are stocking up on delicious food and preparing their living rooms for the traditional football game that takes place on the holiday after everyone has eaten themselves into a food coma. As someone who grew up playing football in Texas, albeit badly, Thanksgiving is truly a great time to be with family and watch one of my favorite sports.
Unfortunately, there is currently a stain on American football that fans like myself just can’t ignore and which lessens the enjoyment we get from watching the sport. I’m referring of course to the controversy surrounding the offensively-named Washington Redskins, a team I’ve not exactly rooted for in the past as a Dallas Cowboys fan.
The term “redskin” is a racial descriptor of for Native Americans, which according to Merriam Webster is a derogatory term that is perceived as “usually offensive”. The term is certainly seen as offensive by members of the Oneida Indian Nation, which is one of the groups that have petitioned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the name. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon, partly because the owner doesn’t want to mess with the legacy of his team and partly out of what I believe is a general lack of respect for the terms that marginalized communities wish to be identified with.
While I generally find Charles Krauthammer, who serves as a contributor for Fox News and also writes for conservative publications, to be a distasteful man with outdated ideas, his recent comments regarding the issue have been some of the most relevant and intelligent remarks to date. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Krauthammer states that while he doesn’t “like the language police ensuring that no one anywhere gives offense to anyone about anything” he believes that the word shouldn’t be used because he “wouldn’t want to use a word that defines a people — living or dead, offended or not — in a most demeaning way. It’s a question not of who or how many had their feelings hurt, but of whether you want to associate yourself with a word that, for whatever historical reason having nothing to do with you, carries inherently derogatory connotations.”
While I might go a bit further than Krauthammer and state that words shouldn’t be used if marginalized communities find them to be offensive, his basic premise of not degrading oneself by using needlessly demeaning language best sums up why the Washington Redskins should change their name. By using the term “redskin” they are not only offending a community that has been brutally oppressed and manipulated for centuries, they are also degrading the integrity and stature of their prestigious organization.
While I would stop short of supporting government intrusion into the affairs of a private business that resulted in a name change of the organization, I do firmly believe that the NFL and the Washington Redskins organization have a responsibility to their fans and native communities to run a business that is free of racism and other forms of discrimination. Hopefully reason will prevail on those who have the power to change the name, but if the name remains unchanged football fans have a responsibility to stop supporting the organization until it comes into the 21st century and learns to respect others.
Matthew Bulger is the legislative associate for the American Humanist Association.