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?

Kyle Weidie on EmailKyle Weidie on GoogleKyle Weidie on InstagramKyle Weidie on LinkedinKyle Weidie on TwitterKyle Weidie on Youtube
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.


    It’s a racist name, that, over time, people of a lot of ethnicities began accepting.

    But somewhere along the line, the KKK went out of style, Jim Crow went out of style, and Bush is currently going out of style.

    A name change is in order. Citing the financial benefit might be the only way of broaching it without rousing fan sensibilities and allegiances.

  • Anonymous

    I like the Washington Natives. What is a ‘skin’ dude? The Marketing Team could keep everything.

  • Anonymous

    I like cheesecake….

  • Truth About It

    A skin?

    Well, I figure that the mascot can be a hand….as in "Gimme some skin bro." But then controversy would arise at to what color the hand would be.

    But you definitely don't want the skin that Nice & Smooth was talking about in Hip Hop Junkies…as in:

    “He said Smooth B the skins is fat

    I don’t beg cause cause I’m not at begonia

    I dress warm so that I won’t catch pneumonia

    My rhymes are stronger than ammonia

    I’m a diamond, you’re a cubic zirconia”

  • Steve the boy nurse

    Link to an interesting article tracking the origin of the word redskin to an literal English translation of French words used by native American peoples to describe themselves, “‘tout les peaux
    rouges’ translated as ‘all the redskins.'”
    Perhaps the reason a majority of Native Americans do not find the word redskin offensive is that they more closely identify themselves as such. The Seminole Indian tribe would rather be called Seminoles than Native Americans.
    It is an interesting anthropological debate. Whites were labeled such due to the obvious color tone of skin. Perhaps one could call me a European American except I have never been closer to Europe than 50 a few miles off the coast of Maine. I am an American, and I assure you I am very white. Does it make others racist that they and I observe this obvious fact? That said It would be fallacious to claim that because white does not offend me that red does not offend native Americans. However polls have been conducted including one in 2004 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of native Americans in all 48 contiguous states finding that 91% of native Americans do not find the term redskin to be acceptable.

  • Steve the boy nurse

    error in previous comment, 91% of native Americans find the term redskins to be acceptable and not offensive.

  • Old Man Stubborn

    Syracuse University changed their name under the radar a few years back and no one seemed to care.

    Yeah, maybe Syracuse isn’t quite as popular as the Dan Snyder’s team, but I would think they are just as visible.

    Finally, what the hell is an “Orange?”

  • John

    The sad thing is that at one time Washington DC was the murder capital of the US. The Washington Bullets had no problems changing their name to the Washington Wizards because people complained. I feel for Native Americans who are offended by this. It is ironic that the majority of players are African American and have no complaints of this racial slur used as a team name.

  • Grace

    I just had a conversation with a friend about this.. The meaning of the word is Offensive, I don’t see NFL teams getting away with the Alanta Coons/Nig** you get the hint… People wouldn’t stand for it, so its OKAY to let it happen to the Original people of this country…. Whether Redskin means the scalp of a native (which is has been known to mean) or the color of their skin.. I know people whom are offended by Nig this and so forth… That is Negro: Black… Same thing… Who cares about a name of a team, doesn’t make them a better or worse team… Change it, to something that doesn’t dishonor.. I would be okay with something insulting whites if we want to make it only fair… And I am a white girl from the Midwest…

  • Anonymous

    "But you definitely don't want the skin that Nice & Smooth was talking about in Hip Hop Junkies…as in:

    "He said Smooth B the skins is fat"

    No, I do want those!

    Solidly reasoned post, BTW.

  • interesting article. well thought out. it will be hard to change the name and it does seem hard to imagine rooting for a team called something other than the redskins especially with a team that has been in the city for such a long time. there was a rumor that Dan Snyder bought the naming rights to a defunct Arena Football Team called the ‘Warriors’ and that he would keep the same team colors, only with a different helmet design. maybe it will give d.c. sports fans a feeling of fresh air and positive momentum since the team has been so bad this year and we still have a name that is definitely a part of me as a D.C. sports fans does make me feel a little uncomfortable.

  • a yooper

    Because this team represents our Nations Capital it does not fair well with a racist name offensive to Native Americans.
    The BLOOD SUCKERS would be a more appropriate name.

  • Chris

    Actually they don’t have to change the name. The term “Redskin” is very much open for interpretation…I’m willing to bet that hardly anyone knew it was that much related to Native Americans let alone that some think it’s offensive. When people hear “Redskins”…they think football first and foremost.

    That said the name is too open for interpretation. A football is also known as the “pigskin”..and it’s red. If they want, they can put a football on the helmet and still call themselves the Redskins. OR..they can remove any Indian themes completely and either create a fictional character, or they can make the theme red war paint. Red war paint is also a possibility of where the term RedSkin came from. So, in my opinion there are many ways to work around this without changing the name. Just remove the Indian theme, “Redskins” is not as specific as the N-word or other racial epithets..nor is it as open for interpretation with its meaning

  • Nate

    Chris is right, how could anyone think “Redskins” is a name related to Native Americans. Further more as Chris points out, it’s like when people hear the word “ni**er” they think basketball first and foremost, not black people. Clearly “ni**er” is very open to interpretation as well. I mean, it’s just the English corruption of the Spanish “negro”, meaning simply black, and black is a colour meaning it can easily be interpreted as anything other than black people.

    Chris, you bring up an excellent point with “pigskin”. For example, a Racoon has the word “coon” in it and is darkly coloured but is just an animal. So in case any NBA teams need a name change, just make the Racoon their logo and call them, “The ______ Coons”. Following the clever idea of using “red war paint”, just make the theme of the team things that have a lot of relation to black stereotypes, like fried chicken. In conclusion, like Chris points out, “Redskins” is nowhere near as direct or specific to a group of people as the N-word, I mean think about it, how many ethnic groups in the U.S can historically be linked to the word “Redskins”…It’s like the N-word, there’s dozens of possibilities. And it’s also clearly just as open for interpretation.

  • Robert Houston

    Well, I disagree with both Chris and Nate. I believe the term “Redskin” is offensive because when brought overhere to work off their prison sentences, they were given the option to join the army and fight natives, so-called Indians. To get credit for the kill they cut off the ears. But the officers couldn’t tell who’s ear was native or not because they’d cut of white soldier’s ears. Then they were told to scalp, but once again lots of whites have dark hair. They were then told to scalp but leave a piece of “redskin” on it. So, “redskin” isn’t offensive in the way that calling someone a derogatory name is. It’s like calling a black person a “coon.” The word “negro” does mean black in Spanish.” But when the Moors controlled the Iberian pensula, the blacks were called Moor. When the Spanish and Portugese overthrew them and then moved to conquor north Africa to kill and capture the blacks the name was changed from Moor to Negro. In a since Negro means dead black, not just black. You know, like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

  • Tim Giago

    As the founder and editor and publisher of Indian Country Today 30 years ago the surveys conducted by my newspaper over the years found that 90 percent of the respondents to the name “Redskin” (most of my readers were Native American) found the name offensive. They usually asked, “What other team is named after the color of a race of people?”

  • katkat

    You guys don’t get it. The term redskin is offensive though some Natives find it not to be. The problem with this is bringing Native culture into it. Redskin fans and even the logo mock what they believe Natives look like. Its offensive seeing the culture such as wearing headdresses, or “warrior cries” or war paint being brought into and mocked by fans. THOSE ALL HAVE MEANING TO NATIVES. You just don’t go around openly mocking people, copying their culture and laughing at it thinking its stupid. Americans have no respect.

    • phil

      How the hell is it mocking them? Of all the teams In professional sports the redskins have an awesome mascot. Sure it may be incorrect historically but then again there are hundreds of tribes and traditions and it will never match all of them. My point is though that most fans looks at the redskins and braves mascot as an impressive and intimidating mascot. In the NBA the Hornets are going from an awesome mascot to the penguins……. Everyone has a sense of respect for who the redskin term represents and that should be seen as a positive at least. Also why is it bad? I have read the bounty that was placed offering a reward for each indian scalp but it says just that “scalp” not redskin. The notion that redskin comes from that is purely an assumption. The only issue here is oversensitive people who have linked a relationship from the n word to redskin simply because it directly refers to skin color. Which let’s be honest back when the term originated was how people described everyone. White people were whites, blacks were blacks or some other degrading terms, and indians were reds or redskins. The term actually originates in french journals quoting indian chiefs. Of course redskin is only a translation but the translation matches in many different people’s writings. So imagine you lived back then you had pretty much 3 choices when referring to indians, there is natives, indians, and redskins. All 3 of which were like used to talk down about indians, to degrade them. I am sure the term indian was actually used in more racist sentences than the term redskin was but we have decided redskin is a slur because of the relation to skin color. If the indians were white but were instead different by being 9 feet tall we would refer to them as the tall ones or something and if it was used in racist sentences like the tall ones are worthless scum of the earth consistently would we be having a discussion? No because the only problem here is the reference to skin but it is a qualifying feature and a legitimate one and can be used to describe a person in good and bad ways. Just because horrible things were done to the indians does not mean that trying to bottle up all of that history into a symbolic word and then ban it as if we are symbolically ban the racism against these people will not accomplish anything other than occupying the time of busy bodies with nothing to do but solve their lives minor frustrations.

    • Redskins forever

      God your’e an idiot. I am so sick of this on going debate. And the more people spew lies about the “origin” of the name, the more the truth get’s polluted. I was born and raised in DC and the only time I have laughed at the Redskins is when they made me so frustrated for sucking. There is nothing “mocking” about the Redskins logo. I am a true fan of the team and American Indians. Read up on the real history of the term “redskin” They themselves described their people as “redskins” as did they call us Whites, or whiteskins. It seems to me the only people crying about this are whites and American Indians with an agenda that has nothing to do with race. I should think that we have a lot more to worry about than the name of a football team. Get a life people.