Sports mascots are weird. They are just the household name that no one really thinks about. What is a “Bill”? Or a “Knick”? You never really question where these titles came from or if there is any historical context to the name. For one organization, however, the masthead that represents it has roots in bigotry. That team is the Washington Redskins. I’ll admit, for the longest time I never thought about that name or the mascot donning the 50-yard line and helmets. It was simply a distinguishing factor of the team that plays in the nation’s capital.
Now I see absolutely clear as day how truly offensive this is for Native Americans. We took a group of people and completely objectified their entire existence. We compared the suffering and enslavement of humans to a sport that exists solely for entertainment.
Sadly, stereotypes relating to the skin colors of other races exist, but no one would ever allow a sport mascot to be named after them. How did it take so long for this name to be questioned? It is equally offensive as any other racial epithet, and it’s thrown around all over ESPN.
A quick history lesson about the team’s organization: George Preston Marshall, at the time the NFL’s “leading bigot,” brought the team to Washington in 1937, according to The Washington Post. Some teams began to sign African-American players in the ‘40s, but it wasn’t until 1962 that Marshall agreed to sign an African-American. So not only was he 20 years late to the party, he had to be forced to sign a non-white player by none other than President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy threatened to relinquish the 30-year lease the team had with the city if he kept refusing to sign African-American athletes.
What you should gain from that information is that the team’s name was fully intended to be racist. So it’s not as if people only recently became offended by the word, it was just as bad back then.
Thankfully, that was more than 50 years ago when civil rights were a new thing. Surely the organization has come around and realizes the egregiousness of the mascot? Wrong.
The scariest part of the entire situation is the conviction that current owner Daniel Snyder has toward the name. His exact words, according to USA Today, were, “We will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
The support for a name change has increased over the past few years. Fans have been protesting the team when it comes to their home city and there is even a website, changethemascot.org, dedicated to the removal of the racist mascot and name.
One thing important to mention is that I am not condemning the athletes, coaches or personnel operating the organization or even the fans. Those working for the Washington D.C., team are just trying to earn a living and essentially have no control over the name change. It also wouldn’t make sense for a person within the organization, apart from Snyder, to protest the name change because something like that takes significant planning. Robert Griffin III is out there to play football, not be a martyr.
This is the same with the fans. Although it is admirable to protest the team until the name changes, you could argue that the support for the team would be equal to the same team with a different name. So for that reason, fans are absolved.
Right now there are some suggestions for what the name could be like the Renegades or Warriors, but probably not the latter because it has received some flak for being offensive to war veterans.
Whatever the new name may be, you can be sure that there will be at least one man trying to keep the current name in place. That man, Snyder, might as well get “I’m racist” tattooed across his forehead.