Washington Redskins helmets with the iconic red and gold colors and logo are displayed on the field during football training camp in 2009. Longstanding criticisms of the team name have recently achieved important momentum and media attention. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
A chorus is growing louder from Native American communities and sports writers saying it is time for the Washington Redskins to change its name. Now President Barack Obama is weighing in. Speaking to the Associated Press amidst the budget horror show, President Obama said, “I’ve got to say that if I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
It was a stunning statement for this most cautious of politicians, who hordes his political capital like a miser collects scraps of tin foil.
Obama’s statement is merely the latest in a sign that the mainstream is waking up to what Native American activists have been saying for four decades: that there is nothing “honorable” or “respectful” about the name Redskins. There have been some remarkable pieces from unlikely sources from Maureen Dowd of The New York Times to the folks at Funny or Die.
But of everything in the recent barrage of common sense and anti-racist logic, nothing quite nails it like a piece last August in The Onion.
At its best, the satirical newspaper can grab an indefensible political argument that has somehow seeped into respectable public discourse, and de-pants it for the world to see. With glee they shout, “This talking point has no clothes!”
They accomplished this feat with the headline, “Report: Redskins’ Name Only Offensive If You Think About What It Means.” The article quotes “New Mexico University Researcher Lawrence Wagner,” who says that based upon his extensive and rigorous academic study, “When you hear or say ‘Redskins’ in the abstract, it’s completely harmless, but we’ve discovered that if you briefly pause to remember it’s a racial slur for an indigenous group wiped out by genocide over the course of a few centuries, then, yeah, it’s awful…It has the potential to come across as a degrading relic of an ethnocentric mentality responsible for the destruction of an entire people and their culture, but that’s only if you take a couple seconds to recognize it as something beyond a string of letters.”