Well, it’s Monday and another week begins. Let’s chew through the leather straps and see what Weird Dumbness awaits us.
Maybe not the most important news of the day but the one that’s grabbed my attention is the announcement by the Washington Redskins that they are finally changing their name to something hopefully a little less racist. This comes on the heels of massive pressure put on the organization and its asshole of a head man Dan Snyder by the various financial concerns bankrolling the team. Particularly heavy on the change was FedEx, which owns the stadium where the team plays, imaginatively named FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
The team actually celebrated its 88th birthday last Thursday, and this isn’t the first time this whole issue came up. The last big to-do was in 2013, when the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (including the NAACP and the ACLU) released a statement that said while First Amendment yadda yadda, it also encouraged a name change because, yes, that’s racist. That started something of a low rumbling among different folks, from the Quakers to Democratic members of Congress, for the organization to change the name.
Snyder was, of course, not inclined to do so and, for the most part, the vox populi was on their side. Something like 85% of Republicans polled were against the change as were 58% of Democrats when polled, and an overall poll made by the NFL in 2014 said 71% were in favor of keeping the name. As noted, this generally fell along ideological lines. Conservatives were fine with it and liberals were against it, and neither side considered the other to be arguing in good faith.
In what might come as a surprise to many folks, opinions among Indigenous Americans were not uniform. Crazy, I know. Some thought it was offensive, some didn’t care, and a large portion figured they had more important things to worry about. Snyder started the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in the wake of the first kerfuffle to help salve some wounds and polish their image a bit. They gave some money to some tribal folks, notably the Chippewa Cree of Montana for a playground as the tribe didn’t care one way or another.
Snyder used this to claim he had the support of Indigenous American, but for the most part that was all spin and public relations. A lot of the different tribal groups saw it as just a ploy to get good press and the National Congress of American Indians said it appreciated the effort, “Redskins” was still a slur and still should be changed.
For his part, Snyder couldn’t keep cool about it and regularly snapped at anyone who criticized the name, Native or not. There were videos at the time of the more obnoxious fans screaming at tribal elders they were “honoring them” by wearing war bonnets and face paint. Again, though, opinions among Indigenous Americans, official and private, were not uniform. White folks sometimes forget that people who are of the same ethnic group don’t always think the same, especially since skin color doesn’t mean the same point of origin or life experiences. We’re funny that way.
In a “Salute to Service,” the organization honored three of the surviving Navajo Code Talkers. One of them, Roy Hawthorne, was in favor of the name, saying it was a name “that was American”. This was called “selling out” by representatives of the Navajo National Council, which voted in favor of a name change for Washington as well as other athletic programs that use Native imagery, from high school on up.
I should break off at this point and note that I went to Itawamba Agricultural High School and Itawamba Community College, both of which call their teams “the Indians”. I haven’t been to any sporting event in years, but when I did we did “The Chop” and played “Kaw-Liga” and there was a guy in a stylized “Indian” suit running around the sidelines with the cheerleaders.
With that in mind, a lot of big sporting organizations are re-evaluating their names. Some, like the Florida State University Seminoles, actually pay the tribe for permission to use the name and the Atlanta Braves are saying they’ll keep the name but look at ditching “The Chop” as well as the plethora of faux-Native trappings used during games. The Cleveland Indians are probably next on the block, looking at maybe calling themselves the Spiders or the Tribe, the latter of which I don’t know helps.
The Chicago Blackhawks are an interesting case. They claim they’re honoring Chief Black Hawk, an important historical leader of the Sauk tribe and a fascinating figure you really should read about. The team’s first owner, one Frederic McLaughlin, was a commander in the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 86th Infantry Division during World War I. They were nicknamed the “Black Hawk Division” after the Sauk leader and McLaughlin named the team in honor of his unit. As far as that goes, it’s probably best to leave that between the team and the Sauk tribal groups in Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa.
So that brings us today. As of writing, they haven’t come up with a new name and there’s no telling if they will before the 2020-2021 football season starts, if we do indeed have a football season this year. Some realtor in the Washington area trademarked a couple dozen possible names, which I think is pretty slick. It probably goes without saying that I think “Redskins” is racist as hell and the team really ought to change it if they have any class whatsoever. It is interesting that it took financial pressure in the midst of this great Thing we’re in the middle of to spur any action, but that’s the way of the world, I guess.
Okay, that’s good for today. All we can do now is wait and see what Snyder and the Washington organization go with, and where it’ll all go from here. As I said, we’re obviously in the middle of a Thing, a turning point in American history, and this inevitable change is an unambiguous Good Thing, a sign we’re maturing as a culture. Baby steps.
Don’t worry. We’ll get back to society’s collapse due to the Trump Administration’s incredible fumbling of the COVID-19 epidemic in due time. Everyone needs a break.