ABOUT TWO years ago, we told you that we would stop using the name of Washington’s pro football team, except when it was essential for clarity, because we considered “redskin” to be a slur. Here’s an update: We still consider the word to be a slur, and we will still do our best to avoid it.
The matter arises again because The Post conducted a poll of American Indians, 9 out of 10 of whom said they were not bothered by the team’s use of the name. That is overwhelming, and the result no doubt will bolster team owner Daniel Snyder’s resolve to never change the name.
But a couple of other aspects of the poll struck us as noteworthy. One was that more than half of respondents had heard little or nothing about this controversy. The other was that 21 percent said they found the word disrespectful, even if they weren’t personally bothered by the team’s use of the name, with another 6 percent declining to express a view.
Where does that leave us? We’ve always made clear that we think fans who embrace the name do so without racist feeling or intent. But we also are clear that the term originates in an era when Indians were considered less than human and were often treated accordingly. References to scalping, war whoops and tomahawk chops hark back to that era and perpetuate stereotypes that can be hurtful, especially to Native American children.
If there were an important principle of free speech at stake in holding on to the name, we would say, by all means, ignore the one-fifth to one-quarter of Indians who say the word is disrespectful. But no such principle is at stake, any more than when Abe Pollin offended some fans by jettisoning the name “Bullets” for “Wizards” because he did not want to glorify violence. A lot of fans were attached to the name “Bullets,” just as many fans are attached to the football team’s name today. But no public purpose is served by holding on to a slur.
One respondent to The Post’s poll, Clark Lee Walker, said he wasn’t surprised that most Indians hadn’t thought much about this question and weren’t bothered by the name. “I think it’s the least of their problems,” he said. “They are more interested in immediate issues: sovereignty, poverty, jobs.” But as someone who has thought about the issue — Mr. Walker is a Comanche from Oklahoma who has studied Indian culture — he also offered an eloquent explanation for why the name should change.
“It’s antiquated as much as it’s offensive,” he said. “The word itself grew up in the context of this fascination, repulsion with American Indian culture. It’s trying to appropriate the exotic without coming to terms with what white culture’s interaction with Native American culture has been. It’s trying to have it both ways: ‘Oh, we love the Indians. Everyone should have one for a pet.’ ”