The Washington Redskins and The Stigma of Racism, Is There a Compromise? | Wizards Blog Truth About

The Washington Redskins and The Stigma of Racism, Is There a Compromise?

Updated: August 21, 2008

With the late July legal win for the Washington football franchise, it’s safe to say that the Redskins will be the nickname of the team for the foreseen future of countless generations. Essentially, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that a 16-year old Native American lawsuit attempting to invalidate a trademark on the Redskins name was not filed within a timely manner of when the trademark was issued in 1967, and to do so now would cause the franchise too great of an economic hardship. The court did not comment on the racially offensive nature of the legal battle and the case now heads back to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Recently, the pot of questionable racism was stirred when The Big Lead compared the use of “Redskins” to the “eye slant” photo of the Spanish men’s basketball team, and then when Mr. Irrelevant refuted the comparison. Debates such as these will unquestionably continue as long as Redskins is the team nickname.

What is a Redskin? The reasoning behind the meaning seems to split into three areas of thought: the skin color of Native Americans, the warpaint Native Americans used before battle, or the bloody scalp remnant resulting from a Native American crossing the path of a bounty hunter.

Most accounts can agree that team owner George Preston Marshall changed the franchise name from the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins in 1933 to recognize then coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Dietz, who claimed half-German, half-Sioux background, embraced what he perceived to be a Native American heritage.

Marshall was no doubt a fan of his coach, Dietz, who was by most accounts a star in his day, hanging out with the likes of Knute Rockne and Walt Disney, and having played alongside Jim Thorpe, along with once being under the tutelage of Pop Warner. However, one could surely debate if Marshall naming the team ‘Redskins’ in recognition of Dietz’s claimed heritage was truly an honor or not. Marshall himself had issues with race, as the Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate in 1962.

So, the age-old defense of the use of Redskins, regardless of the meaning behind it, goes that since the team was named in honor of “Lone Star” Dietz, and if he, being part Indian, didn’t mind, then everything is a-okay. But there’s the catch, Lone Star was raised as a “white man” who didn’t even become aware with his purported heritage until the latter part of his teenage years, upon hearing an argument between his adopted parents.

In 2004, Linda Waggoner, a professor in American Multicultural Studies and Philosophy, wrote a five-part series, “Reclaiming James One Star,” for Indian Country Today, which investigated the validity of Dietz’s claimed Native American ancestry, bringing into light multiple false accounts from his early youth. The ultimate conclusion is that one can neither concretely confirm nor disprove that Dietz was any part Indian.

But for some reason, Dietz embraced the Native American culture to the extent of dressing in full Indian regalia, including on the sidelines of some games, enrolling in Indian schools, taking a Native American wife, and becoming a well-known artist depicting life on the plains. Regardless, it seems silly that the use of Redskins hinges on whether one man may or may not have been a Native American in any way, shape, or form.

To me, the Redskins name is not so bad. I won’t give you the “I wouldn’t care if they were named the DC Honkeys” argument (a racial epithet made popular by this guy), or the “It’s honoring those brave Indians … Native Americans” spiel (the Atlanta Braves honor those brave Native Americans, but that mascot of theirs was a symbol of racism like a mug). Rather, I’ll give you a “the symbolism, as bad as it may be, will always remind us avoiding past issues with the inability to treat each other as human beings” reasoning. Doesn’t make Redskins any less offensive to some, but we all should at least be thinking along those lines. (I wonder how feelings regarding the logo would be if the white man and Redman got along in the first place.)

Might there be a compromise that can satisfy everyone? Here’s my suggestion: Keep the colors, get rid of the iconic Indian and feathers, and change the name to just the Skins. And there you have it, most of the team’s marketing efforts can be solved with some white out and/or paint. Ehhh … on second thought, it might not be a good gesture to rid the franchise of it’s Native American associations with white out. In any case, this name change scenario would seemingly be the most cost effective.

To me, the economic argument in quite ironic. In the very same city, the Washington NBA franchise was renamed to the Wizards after 34 years of being named Bullets, which was inspired from a Baltimore WWII ammunition casting factory when the team played in Charm City. Franchise owner, Abe Pollin, claimed that violent connotations provided the need to change the team name. However, most would admit that becoming the Wizards, in conjunction with moving from Landover, Maryland to a fresh, new arena in downtown Washington, D.C., provided Pollin with a nice financial boon as the result of rebranding and jersey sales.

Big corporations do it all the time, I’d be willing to bet that the Washington Redskins, being one of the most valuable franchises in sports, could economically withstand a name change with team faithful lining up at their local Sports Authority to purchase new gear.

In the end, I could care less that only 9 percent of Native Americans find the Redskins name offensive. I could also care less if the name is eventually changed or not. What I do know is that time spent arguing in each direction could be more productive focused in other areas, but then again, this is the case with most everything we do in life … including *cough* blogging.

Maybe changing the name to “Skins” is just a silly little idea that would, in no way, help race relations in the United States. At least one could say that skin is something that all humans have in common, no matter what the color may be. As Jamie Mottram essentially outlined in the comment section on the Mr. Irrelevant post, most all fans of the Washington NFL franchise would continue to root for their team regardless of the nickname … as long as the colors remained the same.

Maybe it’s time to bid adieu to Chief Zee and his tribe. It may not be a popular decision, but would it really be that much skin off anyone’s ass, or Danny Snyder’s pocket book, to do so?

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.