On Wednesday, “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration…The 99-page decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said the team’s name and logo are disparaging.” I’ve been hesitating to write this post ever since.
You see, I know that there’s controversy surrounding the name and logo of the Washington Redskins, that many Democratic politicians have joined the side of those who want a name change:
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team.”
U.S. SENATORS, CIRCULATED BY MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA)
But, I just don’t get it. I remember watching games between the Redskins and my hometown team, the Dolphins, and thinking how badass the Redskins looked, with a bit of envy. After all, how badass can a dolphin be? Never did it cross my mind that “redskins” was a racial slur. On the contrary, I thought that it was a super cool name. I thought that the NFL, by having a team with a Native American logo and nickname, was actually honoring a part of our nation’s history.
So, in order to understand more about the controversy and write this post, I started researching the origin of the Washington Redskins name and the origin of the term “redskins.”
The Washington Redskins were at first neither from Washington nor called Redskins. The team was made up in Boston and called the Braves.
The team moved to Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox) the next year, and Marshall changed the name to the “Redskins” apparently in honor of then-coach Lone Star Dietz, a Native American (he claimed to be part Sioux, but his actual ancestry has been challenged). A 1933 news article quotes Marshall as saying that he did not name the team in honor of Dietz. [Wikipedia]
On the origin of the term “redskins,”
Some scholars say that it was coined by early settlers in reference to the skin tone of Native Americans, while others say it referred to the color of the body paint used by certain tribes. Ives Goddard, a Smithsonian Institution senior linguist and curator emeritus, asserts that the term was originally benign in meaning, and reflected positive aspects of early relations between Native Americans and whites. The first use of red skin was among a small group in the region first settled by the French, who used the term peaux rouges, their translation of the native word the local tribes used for themselves. Goddard admits that it is impossible to verify if the native words were accurately translated. There are historical instances of Native Americans identifying as red men, or RED-SKIN, and redskins:
“I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is good in his sight. It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows. We are poor… but we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die…we die defending our rights.” – Sitting Bull [Wikipedia]
The research validated my original belief. What’s the big deal about the term “redskins”? I don’t understand why it is considered a racial slur because I see nothing wrong with red skin, or black skin, or yellow skin, or green skin. Ok, I admit I’d have more of a resistance to green skin since it could mean that someone was really sick or from another planet.
But moving on, isn’t thinking that “redskin” is a racial slur somewhat indicative of a belief that white skin is supreme and that any other skin color is inferior to it? In other words, if we saw all skin colors as equal, would there be a controversy with the name “redskins”? I seriously doubt it.
What I don’t doubt is that all the time and effort that has been directed to this subject would have been better spent addressing the needs of Native Americans. What I also don’t doubt is that our country will be a much better place the day that everyone has equal access to a good education, healthcare, and job opportunities regardless of the color of their skin.
Perhaps then, we will be able to see each other as “redskin,” “blackskin,” “whiteskin,”—or not—and mind absolutely nothing about it.