THE NATIONALLY televised sight of all those Atlanta Braves baseball fans doing the tomahawk chop, beating drums and wailing their ersatz war chants did more than set off a series of protests during the World Series; it also brought renewed attention to an unpleasant fact that Washington football fans have been pushing under the rug for many years: that the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive. Coming to the same view, D.C. Council member William P. Lightfoot and seven other council members have sponsored a resolution urging the team’s owner to change the name. With a majority already lined up behind the measure, the sense of the council is clear. “This is simply the right thing to do,” he said. He is correct, and now is the time to do it.
The name has, of course, been easily used for many years all over town, including in these pages, without a thought of its giving offense. Clearly, most Washington football fans lustily sing “Hail to the Redskins” out of love for the team and without the slightest intent to slur, embarrass or demean American Indians. It’s also true that the team name was chosen in 1933 by founder and longtime owner George Preston Marshall — and is defended by today’s owner, Jack Kent Cooke — because of a professed admiration rather than scorn for American Indians.
But to say that the use of the term “Redskins” is well-intentioned or that it is not meant to be objectionable sidesteps the real issue. This is not a term fashioned by American Indians. The nickname was assigned to them, just as the pejorative designation “darkies” was once imposed on African-American slaves. That was wrong then; this is wrong now. That the usage is common and innocently repeated out of habit makes it no less of an insensitive or insulting remark to those who are on the receiving end. We can do better.