Sally Jenkins
Sally Jenkins
Columnist

Washington Redskins team name: Another letter, the same spirit

Video: The Post Sports Live crew weighs in on the battle over the Washington Redskins' controversial name. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

An open letter from The Owner to the Pigskin Nation:

I want to reach out to you — the loyal fans whose pocketbooks I plunder — about a topic dear to me. It has come to my attention that certain parties consider the name of my beloved football team to be racist and offensive. As the Owner and a lifelong hero worshipper, here is what I believe and why I believe it: If something is personally nostalgic to me, it isn’t racist.

 

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None of the offended people are particularly important to me because they aren’t members of my family. I don’t see how I am responsible for them or why I should care, and anyway, they seem to be doing all right. It’s the same as, like, hunger. There are a lot of starving people in the world, but after all, a lot of them are still living, right?

In my experience, the worst thing you can do about a problem is pay attention to it. I would never have bothered to address the subject at all, except the president was fool enough to pick up the telephone while his secretary was out of the room and had to get involved. Since ignoring this is not an option, I will go with the second-best thing, which is to change the subject to avoid a distasteful controversy. Also my media crisis managers have advised me to make myself more sympathetic by appealing to gushing sentiment and reminding people that I am at heart a 6-year-old.

Therefore, I’d like to talk about the past — not your past or anyone else’s but the one that matters: mine.

I still remember the first time I went to a Pigskin game. I was only 6. I will never forget going through the tunnel into the stadium and being struck by the enormity of all that licensing revenue opening up before me. When we scored a touchdown and the crowd roared, I literally felt the thunder of all that cash. The tradition — the music of the old-fashioned registers, with their bell-like ringing noises — mattered so much to me as a child.

Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.

I say this so you won’t think too much about who I really am.

When I think about the old-fashioned epithet my team is named after, I consider what it stands for. As some of you may know, it was given to us 81 years ago by an avowed segregationist who liked to play Plantation Owner and Pickaninny. He saw an opportunity to cash in on the public fascination with Indians, the popularity of dime-store pulp and westerns such as the 1932 film “Ride ’Em Cowboy.” It was all a marketing gimmick.

But let’s obscure that fact with a meaningless jumble of pseudo-patriotism and concern for history, which I barely studied in school, and when I did, I spent most of class chewing on my arm. Our franchise has a great tradition and legacy — one I haven’t bothered to investigate very deeply beyond the football part of it, unless reading the adventures of “Mustang Merle” battling “Fer-O-Cious Hostiles!” counts.

Anyway, the soreheads tell me that in 1933 the bigot owner hired a coach with purported Indian roots who turned out to be fake. This guy had gone to the Carlisle Indian School and coached football at the Haskell Institute, two government-run trade schools that happened to have powerful football teams, but really specialized in “forcible assimilation” of Indian children. That meant seizing them from their parents, cutting off their braids, and forbidding them to speak their native languages, at peril of punishment by bullwhip. Carlisle’s proud motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” while Haskell could boast that it was the school that Jim Thorpe ran away from, twice.

The same cranks also point out that the coach brought in four of his former players from Haskell and put them on the team, which was a pretty good paycheck in 1933 for young Indian men, who were otherwise all but unemployed and usually returned to reservations to collect the government dole of weevily flour and diseased beef. They came from places like Anadarko, Okla., which had a slum nicknamed “Rag Town,” where the Kiowa territory was auctioned off in 1901 to homesteaders, and Odanah, Wis., where timber companies cheated the tribes and destroyed their land base. And then I’m told one of the first things the avowed segregationist owner did was make his coach and four Indian players dress up in headdresses and paint and pose for photographs for the local papers.

I’m here to defend this heritage. So I hope certain individuals will respect what this name means, for all of us. I cannot ignore our illustrious 81-year history — though I can certainly ignore the strong feelings of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest organization of Native Americans in the country, which has asked me to change the name. I can also ignore Indian Country Today, the main news organization for American Indians, which campaigns daily against me.

The name of my team continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in years to come. It is a symbol of everything I stand for. When I think of the name, I think of the values (and assets) I want to share with the next generation.

My media crisis manager has advised me that my previous tone on this subject was not helpful to my cause, especially when I said in ALL CAPS that I would NEVER change the name. I hope you appreciate the fact that I have altered my tone. This time, I’ve done away with punctuation altogether and adopted a different voice: that of a small boy stomping his feet and beating his fists and screeching, “IdontwannaIdon’twanna! Betchacan’tmakeme!”

There. How does that sound?

Yours truly, with amortization and depreciation,

The Owner.

P.S. Wherever I go, I see team bumper stickers, decals, T-shirts, everything. But please don’t make me meet an Indian in person.

For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.

 
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