The Washington Redskins are a Team . . . NOT a Political Statement!
By: Mike McShane
I may regret this, but I feel compelled to jump into the fray regarding the name of the Washington Redskins. The one-way media “conversation” has reached an unrealistic controversial fever pitch and was further fueled by another in a series of occasional diatribes by NBC Sports analyst, Bob Costas during halftime of Sunday Night Football’s match between the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
For the record, I’ve always been a big fan of Bob Costas. Having followed sports now for over 40 years, it was impossible for me not to have a ring-side seat to his sports broadcasting career, which I felt was honorable, ethical, and highly professional. Recently however . . .
I dismissed his “editorial” on excessive sports celebrations as just a guy feeling the awkward need to add something of sports relevance to an event he had no contribution. I just shook my head at his controversial statements about the 1972 Munich Olympics during last year’s Olympic broadcast. And, last year I generally ignored his politically charged rant on gun control following the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend.
During his recent outburst on the political correctness of “Redskins,” his sanctimonious bluster however, reached a new high of disingenuous self-serving rhetoric meant to promote nothing more than Bob Costas.
In less than two and a half minutes, Costas belittled every one of us as small-minded, short-sighted bigots. For just a brief second following his tirade, I felt as if I had done something horribly wrong all these years by actually referring to the team by a proper noun. . . But, that was for just a “brief second.” Following that fleeting introspective second of self-penance, I actually became perturbed by Costas preaching to captive millions, utilizing a pulpit not available to any but a privileged few, to continue stirring the pot of a perceived hullabaloo that admittedly he stated “even a majority of Native Americans say they are not offended.”
Costas further goes on to draw a parallel between other sports “mascots” and that of the reviled Redskins:
“Objections to names like Braves, Chiefs, Warriors and the like strike many of us as political correctness run amuck. These nicknames honor, rather than demean. They’re pretty much the same as Vikings, Patriots or even Cowboys.”
To go in this direction Bob, you are assuming that in fact the names applied to Atlanta’s MLB team, Kansas City’s AFC team, and California’s NBA team were assigned in a much more noble manner than when the name Redskins was chosen for then Boston’s professional football team in 1933; that the intent of Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall was to maliciously malign an interior culture of people.
In fact, while I will admit that some have questioned its accuracy, the belief is that Boston Braves owner Marshall renamed his Boston-based team when they moved to Fenway Park in 1933 to establish their own identity over the neighboring professional baseball team. In determining a team name, he chose to honor his head coach and (later) College Football Hall of Famer, Lone Star Dietz, a Native American and allegedly part Sioux. Should that be the case, in fact there was never any intention but to “honor” Dietz and his relative culture of people.
Costas concluded his weekly Andy Rooney mime:
“Redskins can’t possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait. Nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult. A slur no matter how benign the present day intent . . . If you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken.”
Offense only if, in its origin, it was offensive, Bob. In 2005 Smithsonian Institute’s senior linguist Ives Goddard released his seven month research of the “redskin” origin. He reported the first usage of the term actually came directly from Native Americans and “concluded that ‘redskin’ was first used by Native Americans in the 18th century to distinguish themselves from the white ‘other’ encroaching on their lands and culture.” He further went on to report that in its reference, the term “redskin” was used “in the most respectful context and at the highest level . . . These were white people and Indians talking together, with the white people trying to ingratiate themselves.”
I am nearing 52 years of age, and I must admit that I have never once associated the name Redskins, Braves, Indians, Chiefs, Scouts, Warriors, Blackhawks, etc., in any sort of negative way. Not when I was younger. Not when I came of age. Not now. It’s a name for a team generally associated with a game, locale, and colors. That’s all.
If in fact I ever gave any thought whatsoever to any of the names, my first impression has simply been to kindly remember the first residents of our North American continent who obviously were here before the later settlers and explorers. I do not view the names, nor the people and cultures they represent in a vehement or hateful way. Now, if I can state that these names have had no negative, pejorative imagery or feelings associated with me, then I can state without equivocation, they certainly are not having any detriment to our younger generations. In short, one cannot even use the argument that by hanging on to these old epithets we’re prejudicing future generations.
More important to me for our future generations is the preservation of tradition. The Washington Redskins have been what they are for the past 80 years. They were one of the original NFL teams. There is a long history to the team with tomes of stats, rosters, records, photos, etc. There are familial and territorial generations of Redskins fans, who for them, that should be preserved.
Consider as well that to simply strip all collegiate, semi-pro, and professional sports teams of any reference to Native American cultures in many respects does a disservice to the remembrance of those culture’s contributions. If we knee-jerk to these minority pressures, do we go right down the line and cleanse everything of all cultural reference? How would Notre Dame fans feel if suddenly the “Fighting Irish” name were to come into question? Will PETA be next to step into the circle and now names like Coyotes, Bulldogs, Tigers all will be removed because they cannot properly represent themselves in their displeasure of our maligning their species?
61 year-old Costas has been bringing us sports for over 30 years. He has most notably been associated with his love of baseball. His name has been tossed around as a good candidate for MLB Commissioner. He has frequently and eloquently entertained us with his nostalgic waxing of baseball lore and tradition. Yet, not once in all of those decades have I heard him speak out against the names and images of the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves. When you’ve had so much time in the past Bob, why have you waited until the Redskins became the story du jour to passionately lecture us for our bigoted ways by encouraging all to turn their back on a team’s tradition that is older than you?
I call fraud and violation on you Bob Costas . . . and, all attempting to create an artificial issue.