By Arnie Leshin
Nicknames are the subjects here. Which brings us to the Washington Redskins. Oh sure, there are many, many more, but it’s Daniel Snyder’s D.C. Skins that get raided the most.
He’s got the Kansas City Chiefs in his own National Football, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball, but nobody stomps on them.
Of the colleges, there are the Indians, the Braves, the Chippewas, the Seminoles, the Choctaws, the Tribe, the Sycamores, the Moccasins, the Mocs, even the War Hawks, but no pressure to make changes unless a school itself calls for it.
But somehow the Redskins stand out. If you take polls of Native Americans in the United States, they don’t overly support it, but it also doesn’t bother them, only many others that don’t necessarily include Washington Redskins fans. But the issue does get tired, particularly in the wake of polling that made it seem, at least for some, like a war not worth waging.
There have been years and years of nicknames being changed for one reason or another, but Snyder has been the most stubborn. But to be fair, the owner of the franchise for the past two decades prefers to be on the right side of history as it pertains to the nickname, which is offensive on the face of it. It’s a reality that Snyder long ago had dug in his heels and plenty of people with him, but marked a small, imperceptible protest.
Snyder has dealt with this by polling of his own of Native Americans — first by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2004, then by the Washington Post in 2016 — that showed, overwhelmingly, they were not offended by the name.
But if wasn’t obvious then, it sure is now. The same arguments for changing the name that have been applied over the years apply now. If even some Native Americans are offended, that’s too many. The prism through which we see them has changed, and that’s great. It’s not an honorific. It is a stereotype at a time when we can’t afford them because we see the people not as groups defined by their differences but as individuals defined by what we all share, which is a base level of humanity.
In 1999, when Snyder bought the team or in 2013 when he told USA Today he would “NEVER” — you can use caps” change the name. But he can change it now. It has never been clearer, he must. For what it says about how we view each other. For what it says about our times. For what it would say about our future, a future in which we listen, learn and try to understand rather than dig in and defy for the sake of defiance.
If the NFL season opens as planned with training camps this summer, Washington’s team should do so under another name. Under its new name, whatever that might be. Put in on a ballot and mail it in, send it to Daniel Snyder if you want. One thing though, Redskins’ die-hard fans have always been supportive of the nickname. They root for their team and to them, a team’s nickname is minor.
But what might get Snyder’s attention, the RFK site for a new stadium won’t happen for a team named the Redskins. He grew up rooting for his favorite team at RFK Stadium. It is so many ways, the perfect site for the team Snyder bought, but not with the name.
Said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser: “It’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people. It’s an obstacle for the federal government who leases us the land.”
At a time like this, it would be nice if the motivation wasn’t a business decision but rather a real understanding of why the name can be hurtful. It would be nice if Snyder and those around him began to understand that race is fraught in this country, and they could be part of the solution, even in a small way, rather than part of the problem.
But how, in these times, do you raise kids in the nation’s capital, ask them to look at the pain and the strife racial injustice has caused in their hometown and their home country, walk through the steps they can take to make things better, and then have them Hail to the Redskins on Sundays?
That’s how Snyder should be thinking. In any 21st-century environment, furthering stereotypes based on skin color seems ludicrous. Somehow, it appears more ludicrous given the understanding we’re trying to have right now, particularly of people who don’t look like us. This is a moment when Snyder, rather than seeming forced into a move he has long resisted, could show some level of introspection and empathy.
Let’s get one thing clear, one thing has nothing to do with another. This is a different national issue than the murder of 45-year-old black man George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer. It hasn’t included protests, riots, injuries, murders, and damages to cities around the country. Native Americans are not like that, they are mostly clean-cut native Americans easy to get along with.
Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, N.M. is nicknamed the Braves and the Lady Braves for its athletic programs. They are polite, you don’t see tattoos, but short, neat haircuts. Asked about nicknames that relate to them, they just smile and accept it, followed by the fact that this is their country and are proud to be here and no where else.
Trust me, that’s what you get, and I sincerely approve after first actually meeting Native Americans for the first time when I relocated to New Mexico in 2001. The Redskins as a professional football team are just that and the Native Americans are not going to protest and riot about it.
Now I’ve never known Daniel Snyder, but I realize how he’s thinking. It’s his team, he pays the players, the bills, and if he wants to change its nickname, let it be. If not, perhaps he should do it anyway. Then he could get his new stadium and the fans would have the same team, just a new nickname. If silence is complicity, change the name, if not buy the team from Snyder and make your own decision.
Now high school nicknames are many, but no one is complaining, only wondering how and why they exist.
You’ve got the Galloping Geese of Arlington, Texas, High, the Spoof Hounds from Manville High in Missouri, the Cheese Makers of Monroe, Wisc., the Hermits from St. Augustine, Fla., the Ugly Eagles of Ozark, Ark., the Crickets from Fall Creek, Wisc., the Little Johns of Danville, Va., the Beet Diggers from Elton, West Va., the Awesome Blossoms of Sacramento, Calif., and the Blooming Prairie from Laramie, Wy.
Then there are 142 high schools nicknamed Indians and 110 high schools nicknamed Braves in this country, with 41 Indian nicknames in New York State, and 36 more in Tennessee. But to find any hailed as Redskins, you would probably have to search for the NFL team that plays in the nation’s capital.
But you will find Eagles, currently 1.273 of them, followed by the Tigers’ 881, the Panthers’ 809, the Bulldogs’ 806, the Wildcats’ 669, the Warriors’ 653, the Lions’ 533, and the Cougars’ 485. These are all common nicknames.