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Why "Redskins" Is Wrong

Stephen Pevar,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
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November 25, 2013

Think of a vile name that you were called by bullies at school based on your religion, your race, your country of origin, or some other characteristic. How did it make you feel? If I call you by the same name but tell you that my intention is to honor you by using it, will you feel honored just because I say so, or would you suggest that I find another way to show my appreciation?

“Redskin” is a vile name. It’s a name that people who hate American Indians often call them. Every dictionary defines “Redskins” as being offensive, derogatory and a racial epithet. Even with the best intentions, naming a sports team the New York Kikes, the Seattle Slant Eyes, the Atlanta Niggers, or the Washington Redskins will likely offend the very group you want to honor. And they’re the ones who should know if the name is an honor or not.

The ACLU is a champion of free speech. The issue here isn’t whether Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins has a right to call his team anything he wants. He does. The issue is whether he should perpetuate racism.

Numerous Indian organizations have issued policies and proclamations imploring non-Indians to stop “honoring” them by using Indians as mascots or logos. According to the National Congress of American Indians, Indian mascots and logos “perpetuate racism and bigotry.” The National Indian Education Association, the largest Indian education organization in the country, passed a resolution in 2009 that “calls for the immediate elimination of race-based Indian logos, mascots, and names from educational institutions throughout the Nation” on the grounds that the exposure to such race-based imagery “harms American Indian students.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association recommended discontinuing American Indian mascots and logos because such symbols “have a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children.” Suzan Shown Harjo, an Indian advocate and the executive director of the Morning Star Institute, states that an Indian mascot, regardless of how it is portrayed, results “in dehumanizing actual Native people.” There is no honor in being someone’s mascot.

Numerous people and organizations have beseeched Snyder, to change the team’s name. This includes, in addition to Indian organizations, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which passed a resolution stating that the name is “demeaning and dehumanizing to Native Americans.” President Obama suggested that Snyder consider changing the name. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently wrote that the continued use of “Redskins” as the name of a sports team cannot be defended. Commentator Bob Costas wrote an editorial agreeing with Krauthammer.

It’s not illegal for Snyder to use a racist name for his football team. But why do it when it offends so many people? His stadium used to be called “Redskins Stadium,” until FedEx paid him $250 million to change the name to FedEx Field.

Our society continues to evolve. Many words that were in common usage decades ago have been relegated to the garbage heap because they are recognized today as demeaning and derogatory. Dan Snyder, who is not an Indian, states that the name of his team is a source of Indian pride. Even assuming that’s so, it is also a source of prejudice. Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an American Indian, recently stated that the name “Washington Redskins” is “just simply inappropriate. It is offensive to a lot of people.”

The team has a proud history and dedicated fans. Hopefully the team will soon adopt a name that isn’t racially derogatory.

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