Sports fans are an intense group. Their loyalty to their team is extreme, and they are deeply invested in their team’s success. This passion helps explain the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins football team.
For some time now, the Redskins’ name and logo have been criticized for being disrespectful and racist towards Native Americans. Over the years, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to change the name, but recently the efforts have been gaining steam. Even President Obama voiced his opinion, saying that he would think about changing the mascot if he were the owner of the team.
While there has been a lot of media coverage of this issue, it is almost certain that the name will not change in the near future. Leaders of the Oneida Indian Nation recently met with NFL officials regarding a name change. After the meeting, the Nation’s representative Roy Halbritter said he was “disappointed” with the NFL’s refusal to consider a name change. Team owner Dan Snyder has publicly defended the team’s name multiple times. Snyder has made it very clear that while he owns the franchise, the name will not change.
It must be clear that no one is claiming that Washington fans are racist. Fans don’t oppose a name change because they want to offend Native Americans. They just don’t want the representation of their favorite franchise to change.
For sports fans, rooting for a team is about more than just cheering for the players on the field. Players come and go all the time; some are traded, some retire. A fan’s favorite player can change, but their favorite team is constant. Fans invest so much in their team that changing the name seems unthinkable.
This might not make sense to some people, but to Washington fans, it is about loyalty. In a letter to fans regarding the name change, Snyder calls the name a badge of honor. I’m sure that many Washington fans agree with Snyder.
Here’s the problem, though: If you aren’t a Native American, then you don’t get to decide what is offensive and what isn’t. If Native Americans say that the word “redskins” offends them, then we have to believe them. It’s up to the rest of us to decide whether or not we keep using the word, knowing that some consider it offensive.
Peter King is a well-known and highly respected sportswriter. He has a weekly column for Sports Illustrated called Monday Morning Quarterback. In his Sept. 5 column, King wrote that he would no longer be using the name “Redskins.”
“Here’s what it came down to for me: Did I want to be part of a culture that uses a term that many in society view as a racial epithet? The answer kept coming back ‘no’,” King wrote.
Since it does not look like a name change is coming any time soon, all football fans will have to make this decision personally. Many will say that the name represents a team and a city and is too important to change. I understand their reasoning, but I disagree. If Native Americans consider the name a racial slur, then it’s time that I stopped using the name.
Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER