This Thursday you will be greeted in Minnesota with yet another demonstration of Native American activists and allies, protesting your team’s name, the “Redskins. ”Gathering at the American Indian Movement’s national office, this march and rally will include Congresswoman Betty McCollum and be led by perhaps the greatest Native American athlete of the twentieth century not named Jim Thorpe, 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist, and one-time US Marine, Billy Mills.*
You can’t say you were not warned this was coming. If only you had accepted my June invitation, made on Grantland, to come with me to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—where Billy Mills was raised—so you could sing “Hail to the Redskins” and see for yourself whether anyone in “Indian Country” is honored by your team’s nickname. But you chose to put on burgundy-and-gold blinders, and now you are paying the price.
It is truly stunning just how much has changed since you told USA Today earlier this year, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
Multiple Native Americans organization, from AIM, to the Choctaw, to the Oneida Nation, are calling on you to change the name.
Everyone from President Obama to right-wing caricature Charles Krauthammer has jumped on this moving train and said the name should change.
More sportswriters are pledging not to use the word. Bob Costas called it “a slur” and “an insult” at half-time of Football Night in America. The next day, with much less uproar, FNA’s Cris Collinsworth said, “I have to admit, as I was watching the game Sunday night and I was saying the word Redskins, in my brain it was coming out red skin. And there was something about that that just didn’t feel right. I have a feeling if it were the blackskins, the brownskins, the name would have already been changed.”
This past week, the San Francisco Chronicle became the latest publication to state formally that this definition-defined-slur of a team name, would no longer be used in their publication. At your own alma mater (although technically you did not graduate), the University of Maryland, the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Capital News Service, announced on October 30 that it would no longer be using the word “Redskins.”That had to hurt.
Amidst this groundswell, a historic meeting took place last week between members of the NFL brain trust—although conspicuously not Roger Goodell—and leaders of the Oneida Nation to discuss the name, and the Oneida’s proposal that you be formally sanctioned by the league. This was the first time in forty years of advocacy that Native Americans have been given a seat with the powers-that-be at the NFL to talk this through. It is a shame you were not there to speak with them as well, especially since 77 percent of the DC MarylandVirginia region thinks that you should meet with the Oneida Nation.**
The tragedy is that your response has been to double-down and re-insist that the name will “never” change. This is unfortunate. George Preston Marshall, the team’s original owner, once pledged that the team would “never” have African-American players. He was so resolute about this that the Redskins were not only, famously, the last NFL franchise to integrate, the NHL integrated before the Washington football team. I mean, sweet Lord. Hockey!
Look, Dan, a lot of people are being extremely kind to you as they try to coax you away from ensconcing yourself as the George Preston Marshall of the twenty-first century. If anything, Collinsworth and Costas let you off easy. Collinsworth said that while you should change the name, the franchise was “trying to honor Native Americans.” Costas said “[T]here’s no reason to believe that owner Daniel Snyder, or any official or player from his team, harbors animus towards Native Americans, or chooses to disrespect them.” Given your refusal to meet with tribal leaders, people are going to stop thinking that you are choosing not to disrespect anybody. And if the Internet is our guide, there are already many willing to think the worst about what beats in what team legend John Riggins once described as your “dark” heart. All you did was pose with your new super-cool new sneakers, and the photoshopping was brutal. Is that what you want? To be the “Native American photoshop genocide” guy? Don’t be that guy. Don’t be George Preston Marshall, Dan. Don’t be remembered as the last man standing, telling history to stop.
Get ahead of this, Dan, because change is coming. Since 1946, it has been illegal to trademark racist or offensive speech for the purposes of profit. Ask the enterprising business people who were denied a trademark for “Bubby Trap” a brassiere for the full-figured older women. “Bubby” is, of course, Yiddish for grandma. If “Bubby” was deemed too offensive, what is a twenty-first-century judge going to say about “Redskins” when it comes across their desk in 2014?
In the opinion of Representative Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the congressional delegate from Washington, DC, and a former constitutional lawyer, it will be a “slam dunk” for any judge who has to decide whether to strip the team of trademark protection. Mixed sports metaphors aside, the writing is on the wall. You say the name will never change, but as Mary Phillips of the Omaha Nation of Nebraska, said at a recent panel in DC hosted by The Joe Madison Show, “Because we are fighting back, it already has changed. No one can hear it and pretend anymore that it is anything other than what it is.” Mary Phillips said this after telling harrowing stories of growing up in the DC area, being bullied and called a “redskin.” When she stood up to this, she was told, “You people lost and should get over it.”
It is time to flip this around, Dan. It is you who needs to “get over it”. You need to get over the idea that this name is not racist just because you say it isn’t. That’s not the act of a community leader. It’s the logic of a child. Change the damn name, Dan, and maybe you’ll get to change your rapidly spiraling public image before the cement on that hardens for good. You say that Native Americans should be “honored” by the Redskins name. Billy Mills said, “Our truth is, redskin is tied to the murder of indigenous people.” I’ll take Billy Mills’s truth over your truth any day. I am guessing I’m not alone.
* Played by Robby Benson in Running Brave. Don’t mess with Robby Benson!
** There is now a sea change in opinion and the polling backs this up as 23 percent of DC area residents now say they would be more likely to root for the team if the name in fact changed.