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Questionable Naming Rights

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"When they started paying bounties for Indian bodies and Indian skulls as proof of an Indian kill, the trappers and mercenaries would come in with wagons full of men, women and children's bodies and with gunny sacks of heads. It became a transportation and storage problem, so bounty payers began to pay for scalps in lieu of skulls and bloody red skins in lieu of bodies."

I recently asked some of the Redskin players how they felt about the name. "It's hard for me to understand because our people weren't treated like that," said Joe Salave'a, whose ethnicity is Samoan. "But if that's how [American Indians] feel, it's something that needs to be dealt with."

"I understand the people who may have those complaints," said Ray Brown, the team's 42-year-old offensive lineman, who is black. "If I can assist them in any way, I would."

In an authentic, modest act of sensitivity, Brown tries not to refer to the team name in conversation. "I don't tell people I play for the Redskins," he said. "I just tell them I play for the 'Skins. When I sign autograph items, I do the same thing. I put 'Skins. It's my thing. I'm not saying everyone else should do it, but that's what I do."

Chad Morton, the former Washington kick returner who signed with the New York Giants this month, remembered seeing all the anti-nickname protesters before a team banquet in Virginia.

"I use to look at them and think, 'Why don't you guys do something else with your time?' " he said last year. "Now I look at them and think they're right. I mean, if you look at that logo and you really think about the name, it is racist."

In July, Native American groups won another chance to challenge trademarks encompassing the name and logo of the team. Last month, the team and the NFL filed a motion to rehear that decision.

You know how Snyder feels about the controversy? Ask his spokesman, Karl Swanson. "I know a guy who wants to paint the Redskins logo on the bottom of his swimming pool," Swanson said on a recent voice mail. "So he clearly has no problem there."

Don't they realize some folks feel the same way about the Confederate flag, the way others used to feel about Amos and Andy, about putting on black face? Until time told them they were wrong, that they should have known better.

I asked Swanson again to clarify the team's position over the phone on Monday. He said the team researched it, that neither he nor Snyder is responsible for the meanings and usage that came afterward. So, Swanson was asked, if the team were called the Washington Negroes or the D.C. Rabbis, there would be no public outrage.

"I don't know," he said.

I understand the logo is undeniably a cultural symbol to thousands.

When parents buy their children bedspreads and rain ponchos with the team's insignia on it -- as Snyder's parents did for him -- it becomes part of your life experience, a piece of personal history.

But it's not your history. It's not your cultural symbol. It never was. You co-opted it, seized someone else's identity and made it part of your own. When Native people try to explain that, you should listen -- just as you would listen when a black person tells you they don't appreciate the term "colored," just as you would listen when a well-educated person from Morgantown tells you it's no longer funny -- it never was -- to paint West Virginians as toothless, moonshine-sipping hayseeds.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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