Mandel’s Musings: The Debate Over the Name of the Washington Football Team

Published on: 11th September, 2013


Robert Griffin, III, Quarterback of the Redskins  | read this item

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Please excuse my ignorance. I wasn’t exactly sure what a Redskin was and what made it a racist term in our new world of political correctness. I know, of course, it’s a word that describes native Americans. I just didn’t have a grasp of why it’s now being talked about as such a vile description of our original settlers. So, I looked it up.

According to Wikipedia, a “Redskin” is a “racial descriptor for native Americans, the origins of which are under dispute. Although by some accounts not originally having negative intent, the term is now defined by dictionaries of American English as “usually offensive”,
“disparaging”, “insulting”, “taboo” and is avoided in public usage with the exception of its continued use as a name for sports teams.”

Sounds like a pretty bad, insensitive word to call someone or to use in conversation. Maybe, it really is a terrible name to give to a sports team, as media colleagues like Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Christine Brennan of USA Today have recently decided to announce in their columns.

But, aren’t there other words, much worse than Redskins, that more readily pass the test for racism, that leave no doubt as to their disparaging intentions in describing a societal or religious group of people?

For instance, I know what the N word is. It’s such a bad word, I won’t even spell it out, here. I also know what the K word feels like among Jews and non-Jews alike. I wouldn’t sully these pages with those four letters. And, of course, the S word is as bad a word as you can utter to or about the Puerto Rican community. But this R word, Redskins. Is it offensive because the King of England, during the 18th century pronounced that these “red-skinned Indians” should be wiped out so that the English could continue to annex as much land as they wanted without opposition? And, where have all the nay-sayers about the R word been for the last 90+ years while sports teams at all levels, from high school to the professional ranks have been called names like Redskins, Indians, and even those damned Yankees.

A reader of the popular website,, recently wrote to Mike Florio, the site’s editor in chief about this issue of vile names of sports teams. The fan wrote:

“I want the names, Vikings, Raiders, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Bills, Packers, and Patriots changed as they are all offensive to certain white people. I also want the name Saints changed as it popularizes blues singers who were black and descended from Southern slaves. The name Titans, gives honor to a group of pagan deities and is offensive to Christians. Then you must scrap all the names that refer to those people who were here before us. Finally, I want all animal, bird, and fish names changed as these are offensive to PETA. Which leaves only the Jets, which is okay as inanimate objects have no feelings to hurt.”

Robert Griffin, III, Quarterback of the Redskins

Robert Griffin, III, Quarterback of the Redskins

The point is, there are debatable names that are offensive, to lesser or greater degrees, to any number of people.

Like many sports fans, my sense of the word, Redskin, one of the most popular team names in this country since organized sports began, is that it doesn’t quite pass the smell test for blatant racism, compared to those other much more graphic and hateful words. Again, maybe it’s my ignorance. Or, maybe it’s the evolving politically correct world we live in. Nothing wrong with evolution, however. If it leads to a gradual changing of social mores and attitudes that have been hurtful and hateful in the past, I’m all for it.

I’m as interested in teaching our children the difference between right and wrong as the next guy. If Redskins eventually becomes, in our collective social and political consciousness, a term that meets every definition of racism, I will not only teach my children and my grandchildren not to say words like the N word and, Redskins, but I will teach them the sordid history behind these words.

In this country, slow as it may seem to victims of bias, social and political evolution have gradually led to changes in how people view the social strata, and the ultimate dismissing from public discourse of harmful phrases and words. Of course, it would be naive to believe racism and ignorance no longer exist among several geographic and social groups in this country but progress has been palpable, particularly over the past 40 years or so.

But here, today, September 12th, 2013, there are far worse words deserving of immediate eviction from our national consciousness than the word, Redskins. Or Indians. Or those damned Yanks. Maybe, in my willingness to grow and learn and listen, the name of the Washington football team will someday become as vile to me as the N word is.

But, for me, that change needs to come about as part of an evolutionary process, both on a personal and a national scale, before it gets removed from our social and our sports lexicon.

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