On Washington Redskins’ name, it’s time the grown-ups talk sense into Daniel Snyder
By Sally Jenkins,
If you’ve long suspected that football is not a measure of intellect, the proof is currently posted for all to see on the Washington Redskins Web site. A series of prominently displayed pseudo-articles defend the club’s use of a racial slur as a mascot on the grounds that lots of high schools are nicknamed “Redskins” too — so it must be okay. Which we can only take to mean that pretty soon owner Daniel Snyder will be skipping class to build a potato gun.
It would be nice if the NFL franchise in the nation’s capital were an example for all the land. But apparently Snyder takes his example from 10th graders. A couple of days ago, the club launched a campaign to defuse the pressure Snyder is under to change the team name by declaring that “70 different high schools in 25 states are known as the Redskins,” and therefore it’s surely an honorable word. What’s more, “Redskins.com found that there are almost as many schools using the name Redskins as Cowboys.” Oooh! And after school, for fun we’ll shoot BB guns at road signs!
On Tuesday, a new entry appeared, in which a high school athletic director from Oklahoma proclaimed that, “No one has ever been dishonored at our school with that Redskins nickname.” Though he himself was admittedly not American Indian, he said he had consulted one.
He also confessed that he wasn’t sure his students “know the whole history behind the nickname ‘Redskins.’ ”
No, they probably don’t know. Given that the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 12 percent of high school seniors were proficient in American history. And only 2 percent were able to identify the social problem addressed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
This is just a guess, unlike the Redskins.com scientific method of surveying high schools on MaxPreps. But I’m willing to hazard that most 10th graders don’t realize a team calling itself Redskins might as well rename itself the Darkies, Guidos, or Slant Eyes. I’m pretty sure they are unaware that the term Redskins dates to the settler era when hunters boasted about shooting down “damned government pets” and peddled Indian scalps as if they were animal pelts along with deerskins and bearskins.
It’s Snyder’s favorite ploy to summon “history” and “heritage” to defend his use of a term that belongs in the same class as Dagos, Hymies and Krauts. By history, Snyder seems to mean the apocryphal notion that team owner George Preston Marshall meant to “honor” Lone Star Dietz with the name of the team. A real reading of history shows that, actually, Marshall was a virulent racist and segregationist who liked to play Slave and Master. According to Thomas G. Smith’s book “Showdown,” when Marshall proposed to his wife, he hired black performers to dress up as chattel and sing “Carry Me Back to old Virginny.” He once said, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” He also once said, in answer to the charge that he was anti-Semitic, “I love Jews, especially when they’re customers.” It’s far more probable that when Marshall invested in the team known back then as the Boston Braves, he simply renamed it to differentiate it from the baseball team.
This is a just another guess, and not scientific method on the level of Redskins.com, but I’m pretty sure that whoever wrote the Redskins.com post wouldn’t score any higher on a history test than your nephew who chews on his arm.
I’m willing to make another non-scientific guess: Snyder doesn’t care to do anything about the name because he doesn’t consider American Indians a significant part of his audience. Since they make up only 1.4 percent of the general population, they’re too unimportant to be insulted. So it’s perfectly okay to use a term about them that ranks right up there with Spics, Tar Babies, Wetbacks and Yids.
At last week’s Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian symposium on “Racist Stereotypes” in sports, one American Indian in the audience stood up and said, “If Dan Snyder truly thinks the word ‘Redskins’ is an honorific, I challenge him to attended the next meeting of the National Congress of American Indians and try using that word to people’s faces.”
Plenty of important people have raised the issue of the team’s name, from Mayor Vincent Gray to several columnists at this paper to WRC anchor Jim Vance. But none of them have the power to make Snyder or the NFL uncomfortable, and he seems beyond embarrassment about using such an ugly term, though lord knows I’ve tried in the preceding paragraphs. What’s needed is an influential lobby. I think I have just the group. Snyder may be careless about insulting American Indians, but there is another population that he should take care not to insult. They make up a large part of the NFL audience, and have considerable sway with league commissioner Roger Goodell: the U.S. military.
I’m betting that the owner has no idea American Indians have the highest per capita military service commitment of any ethnic group in this country. Or that 47 percent of all tribal leaders are veterans.
As of 2010, there were 22,569 enlisted service men and women and 1,297 officers on active duty from the native population. It’s a tradition that dates back to World War I, when 12,000 American Indians served before they even had citizenship rights, and four won the Croix de Guerre. In World War II, 44,000 served.
So I have a suggestion for the commander in chief and the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and their chiefs of staff and sergeant majors. Pick up the phone. Put in a call to Snyder, and tell him, “Stop demeaning our most loyal volunteer troops.”
Of course, he may be too busy setting off stinkbombs in the school bathroom to listen.