In his Aug. 18 letter, Edward Cunningham's arcane justification for the continued use of an outdated and racist term for our great football team is perhaps as frivolous as it is wrong.

Education in Native American history and culture may help fight prejudice, but certainly it cannot rationalize the acceptance of prominent symbols of racism in our society. Token fig leaves such as changing the team's fight song or inviting a Native American to sing the national anthem completely miss the point.

The point is that many overused words and symbols in our society are obviously denigrating, racist terms that have no place in our diverse modern culture. It is particularly ironic that in a capital city such as Washington, which is known for its racial tolerance, we tolerate such racist symbols.

No doubt, Washington football fans shudder at the thought of changing their team's name. In fact, it will be a courageous, meaningful and significant act.


Since Edward Cunningham has undertaken to enlighten us about the derivation of the ince Mr. Cunningham has undertaken to enlighten about the derivation of the Washington Redskins' name, he should at least get his facts complete and accurate. It is true that before our home team came to Washington in 1937 it had played in Boston as the ''Redskins.'' (In 1936 the team won the Eastern Conference title but lost the championship playoff to the Green Bay Packers in a game played in New York City's Polo Grounds because of poor support from Hub fans.)

But the nickname "Redskins," which came with the team to Washington, was not in any way derived from an association or identification with the Boston Red Sox, nor any political background. Rather, it was drawn directly from the other Boston baseball team -- the National League "Braves" -- in the way that other NFL teams then tried to take advantage of their more popular "baseball brothers" by aping their nicknames. Two examples: the NFL's Detroit Lions' cribbing from the Tigers and the Chicago Bears' copy-catting the Cubs.

Going even farther back it would appear that the entire Indian motif was itself drawn from the important role that various tribes of these Native Americans had in and for New England and its residents, rather than from some political clubhouse (whose own names were likely taken over from some Indian identification).

So the Redskins have played in Washington since September 1937 and are fortunate that George Preston Marshall transferred them here to a city in which he had other prominent business ties. After a slow but impressive start, they've prospered (at least at the box office) ever since.

Still, one can agree with Mr. Cunningham that there's nothing invidious intended and no harm in the team's continuing use of the Redskins-Indian logo. At least that's the case so long as they reach the playoffs every year.