Before this NFL season begins, let’s get this over with. The most important and maybe the least interesting aspect to discuss about the professional football team from Washington D.C. is their nickname. No, this is not news. And pundits from a wide variety of professions, from Ivy League ethicists to the President of the United States, have been asked, or have simply offered, their opinions on the matter. I have been a Redskins fan for so long that the denotation of the word does not register with me. Instead the word connotes half a lifetime of images and emotions. It represents a team whose successes and failures have helped me mark time and place. I have love for the word because of what it means to me, not because of what it actually means. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. One of the arguments commonly offered resisting a name change is that the team stands for much of what many perceive to be admirable about Native American people. The Redskins can represent bravery, resourcefulness, and wisdom. How can those virtues be offensive to anyone?
Well, as Chaucer wrote and Shakespeare avowed–love is blind and lovers cannot see. Of course the virtues listed above aren’t offensive to anyone. But the word Redskin surely is. Last fall, while listening to NBC’s Bob Costas and his clear articulation of the controversy during halftime of a Redskins/Cowboys game, I was finally shaken from my reverie. Near the end of his television essay, Mr. Costas simply suggested, “Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed towards African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or any other ethnic group. When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage or noble character trait…” Oh. Yes. Right. It was suddenly obvious. All this time, we have been referring to a group of people only and explicitly by the color of their skin. “Welcome to Monday Night Football. Tonight, we have the New England Whiteys taking on the Mississippi Blackskins.” Hmm. Good gracious. ‘Redskins’ is in fact a patently outrageous moniker. The name simply has to change, and it will be an embarrassment until it does.