A Bad Defense of the Redskins Name


July 26, 2012; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins players

Yesterday, I wrote that the Washington Redskins should embrace the resolution put forward by the D.C. Council to change its team name to the “Washington Redtails.” Redskins is a pejorative term that is archaic, hurtful, and insensitive to an entire class of American people. Some people disagree with this sentiment, but I have not found any of the arguments in favor of keeping the name particularly persuasive. Then I read this editorial from The Washington Times and suddenly other defenses of the Redskins name did not seem so bad.

“We should put aside concerns about crime, decrepit schools, perpetual parking and traffic chaos and an unending series of corruption scandals in the District of Columbia government. The D.C. Council is poised to decide what a private business should call itself.”

I’ve never understood this argument. Our government is supposed to handle many different issues at the same time- taxes, education, health care, and yes, regulations on private businesses. That’s why politicians have staffers. The editorial seems to argue that David Grosso, the man who put forward the proposal, is only working on this resolution and has done nothing else. Plus, the Washington Redskins are worth approximately $1.6 billion dollars and are the fourth most valuable sports franchise in the world. There are on-going  conversations to get the team to move back into the district as a way of promoting D.C. business. The D.C. Council should concern itself with the Redskins brand.

“David Grosso, an “independent” at-large councilman, says he will introduce a resolution demanding that Dan Snyder change the name of his Washington Redskins to the “Washington Redtails,” presumably to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the black fighter pilots who wrote tales of heroism across the skies above World War II battlefields.”

Why is Grosso’s independence in quotes here? And how does one “write” a “tale” of “heroism” “across the skies”? Presumably that is harder than writing an editorial for a dying newspaper.

“The tails of their planes were painted red, and they terrorized the enemy like a linebacker going after a running back.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were truly the Terry Tate of World War II.

“Mr. Grosso, a composer yet, says the team’s popular anthem can be easily modified — “Hail to the Redtails” — and “you can still keep the feather.” Hooray.”

I was not a journalism major, but I don’t think a sarcastic “hooray” is the best persuasive writing technique. Unless you are a fourth grader.

“But if “Redskins” demeans Indians, why wouldn’t “Redtails” demean fighter pilots?”

Wow. Deep breaths. Ok. Let me try to explain this one. The reason that Redtails does not demean Tuskegee Airmen is that fighter pilots embraced the name because it was a reflection of the color of paint on their planes. In contrast, Native Americans are not pleased with the term “Redskin” because it was used as a slur meant to evoke negative racial stereotypes.

To the author of this piece, I offer an experiment to highlight the difference. Go find a group of World War II veteran pilots and say, “How are you Redtails doing?” Then, walk into an Indian reservation and ask, “How are you Redskins doing?” I think this might shed some light on the confusion.

“The first-term councilman doesn’t appear to have any particular connection to football.”

Now we want our councilmen to have football backgrounds? Would his words have more weight in this issue if he was a long snapper in college?

“His official biography reveals him to have been a public relations executive at CareFirst BlueCross/BlueShield, where he “provided in-depth analysis” of Obamacare for his employers, and for a time served on the staff of an earlier councilman.”

You might think it is a bit odd that a writer would shoehorn a reference to healthcare in an editorial about the Washington Redskins. Keep in mind that Washington Times writers get paid by the number of references to Obamacare they make.

“Mr. Grosso might not know that “Redskins,” as they have been called for 80 years, was actually adopted to honor its second coach, Lone Star Dietz, who was descended from American Indians, before “Indians” became “Native Americans” (which is what most of us are).”

There are other names that people used 80 years ago that are not appropriate now. I can think of many. Whether Lone Star Dietz felt honored by the name because his mother was allegedly a member of the Sioux tribe is a question lost to the annals of history. Still, I think it is silly to suggest that the name can’t be changed now because of the original intent in the 1930s.

Nice job sneaking in the “Native Americans” comment in parenthesis at the end. See Indians? We were born in this country too and we as white males from middle class suburbia aren’t offended by the name!

“Mr. Grosso says Democratic council members Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) have signed up so far for his crusade. This issue bubbles and squeaks from time to time because certain politicians are more concerned with getting their names in the newspapers than with the pain of the masses who are not offended by a name honoring the bravery and fighting spirit of the original Americans.”

A name which honors their bravery and fighting spirit…by making a stereotype of their skin color. Native Americans seem so appreciative!

“A D.C. councilman’s life can be a lonely one.”

The word “Redskins” is like Grosso’s personal version of “Rosebud.”

“The Redskins are a private business enterprise, and the owner has the right to call his team whatever he likes. If Mr. Grosso really believes in the cause of municipal propriety, there’s much to do within the District Building, where propriety is honored mostly in the breach. A manufactured controversy over the name of a football team is a convenient way to direct attention away from scandal and sordid behavior. He should leave the management of the Redskins to those who actually know what they’re doing.”

/represses Vinny Cerrato joke

Without delving too far into the politics of regulation, it is a fact that private businesses are told all the time what to do by government. There are hiring rules and guidelines. There are minimum wage requirements. There are environmental regulations. Businesses make up the American economy (an issue I would assume the author is concerned with), and the NFL is big business. Is there grandstanding involved in putting forward this resolution? Absolutely. Is Grosso wrong to want to change the local sports team name to something less racist when there’s a chance the team will be moving back into the district? No.

Hooray, indeed.