"Cowboys Skin Redskins

for Thanksgiving"

-- Headline in the

Taipei Times last week

You had to go a long way from Washington to read about the local football franchise in such a raw way. But there it was, in Taiwan: unvarnished, racist Wild West Americana, the cultural roots of the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

Washington's newspapers used to print words like "scalped" and "skinned alive" to describe what the hometown team did to losing opponents. But such references are rare these days, and not just because the home team hasn't been on much of a winning streak lately.

The little games we play -- toning down words, replacing images of Indian heads on helmets with arrowheads, pretending that the team's name means "courage" and has nothing to do with American Indians, as owner Dan Snyder does -- suggests a gradual, if still reluctant, realization that there is something wrong with using "Redskins" as a moniker.

So far, more than 22 institutions throughout the United States -- mostly elementary, junior and senior high schools -- have stopped using the name, according to American Indian Sports Team Mascots, a group that monitors such name changes.

More than 140 institutions and organizations have stopped the use of other American Indian nicknames, according to the group, and at least 80 organizations are working to eliminate all such insulting names.

Last year, Hiawatha (Kan.) High School ended its decades-long tradition of being the "Redskins" and became "Redhawks." The Hiawatha Board of Education had voted the name out after holding several community forums.

"All of this had been hanging over our heads for a while, and students were becoming uncertain about what was appropriate and what was not," recalled David Fitz, Hiawatha's assistant principal and athletics director. "Once, they made a mascot costume of an Indian with a big nose and had to get rid of it. Then there were some things about the cheers that we wouldn't allow."

At the forums, residents spoke out passionately, pro and con.

"There were some individuals from the various tribes who took exception," Fitz said. "Although we have a small Native American population in the school system itself, the consensus of the school board was that if anything was offensive to them, it's not good to continue."

After students came up with a new name, Fitz said, "True supporters backed them, and morale went up a bit."

Washington, with its peculiar mix of Southern defiance and Northern arrogance, has proved to be a much harder case. For who dares to tell the most powerful people in the most powerful place on Earth what to do?

You'd think that having such a bad attitude would warrant a more appropriate team name. Say, the Washington Predator Drones. Have that mascot circling FedEx Field during a game and victory is assured.

But, alas, the very notion of changing the name because American Indians want respect on their own terms is beyond comprehension for many.

"I hope you'll believe me when I say I think of a courageous warrior when I think of the Washington Redskins," a reader wrote at the beginning of the football season. " 'Redskin' is not a derogatory word to many of us. I, for one, hope the team never changes its name."

Another reader wrote: "As a child, I can remember playing cowboys and Indians and wanting to be called a Redskin. At the time, I did not think it was a put-down but rather something to be proud of. I feel that is true today."

Such sentiments, no matter how well meaning, disregard the feelings of American Indians. And since when does not intending to insult someone make the insult okay?

Deadskins. Bedsprings. Possums (stink at home, die on the road). Almost any name would be less offensive.

If, however, "Redskins" is here to stay, as Dan Snyder insists, at least take the American Indian out of it. Keep the name, but paint a redskin potato on those helmets.

After all, they can be fried by Cowboys, scalloped by Eagles, mashed by Giants and even skinned themselves.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com