Brittain Peck was just trying to play fantasy football, not get involved with the political and sociological implications of sports nicknames.
In fact, when the North Carolina-based graphic designer joined his new fantasy football league two seasons ago, his team was called the Foot Lions. The logo was one of a supermarket chain. Not a lot of controversy there.
Peck, though, was surprised to learn the other team nicknames used in his league, which was comprised entirely of white men. Many of the names carried slight hints of wouldn’t-say-that-in-public. One — “Chief Slap-A-Ho” — seemed particularly unsavory to Peck.
Which is why he came back for his second season armed with a new name — the Whiteskins — and a new logo. See above. Peck’s graphic creation played off the Redskins’ famous headdress logo, except the feathers were replaced by a knotted tie, and the Native American profile by that of a fleshy, middle-aged white dude.
“Just generic clip art of a white guy,” Peck told me this week. “I Google searched “middle-aged white guy” and he came up.
Since this was 2011, Peck decided he should put the logo on shirts and sell them online. When his father pointed out that white supremacists might theoretically use them for their own purposes, he decided that all proceeds would be donated to organizations working for the benefit of Native communities.
And that might have been that, but for a bit of publicity bestowed by the Web site Uni Watch, the Internet’s greatest source for sports uniform news and gossip. Paul Lukas, the ESPN.com columnist and founder of Uni Watch, published a letter from Peck, in which he explained that he didn’t want his Whiteskins project to be negative — “You shouldn’t do that” or “Oh, how dare you” — and that he was instead preparing possible alternatives for existing names and logos.
Which then prompted more than 3,000 words from Lukas, who came out against the use of Native American nicknames and imagery as sports logos, especially commercially, “because those names and images are not yours to use.”
And when Uni Watch ran a contest later this spring for fans to submit potential new uniform designs for the Redskins, Peck created a set of his own, using a “Warriors” nickname and a design that calls “upon generation’s of US military aesthetics, as well as years of uniform tradition in the Redskins organization.” The design made it through the first round to the top 10, and then easily won with 27 percent of the final vote.
And so now Peck has a Facebook Whiteskins page, and a blog, and a Twitter account, and an online store, which has sold about a dozen Whiteskins shirts to Vikings offensive tackle Levi Horn, who is of Northern Cheyenne descent. And in his spare time, Peck is using his winning Warriors uniform design to try to imagine what it would be like to actually help a pro team transition to a new name.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t want to see it change; how could you get them excited about a change?” Peck asked. “That, I think, would be really fascinating; to try to get people to want to change the name for positive reasons, not to try to shame people.”
Peck wears his Whiteskins shirts to the office. When people say “What the hell?” he tries to engage them on the topic. And he still wonders whether his fantasy football rival would wear a “Chief Slap-a-Ho” T-shirt into work.
He’s already started talking to groups about how to use the money raised by the t-shirts, and is considering a poverty relief program at Pine Ridge or a program that helps kids run the New York City marathon.
One of the arguments he hears from Redskins fans is that their logo is trying to honor Natives, not offend them.
“That’s cool, but how are they honoring them, other than having some guy dressed up in a costume?” he asked. “The Whiteskins are trying to actually do something. We’re not trying to honor anyone — we’re trying to satirize someone — but we’re also trying to do something.”