WASHINGTON — For better or worse, when Dan Snyder purchased the Washington Redskins, he bought a team with not only a tradition of winning and excellence but also with a name that has generated increasing criticism from those who believe the term “redskin” is offensive. He has vowed never to change the team name despite the growing controversy and pressure, and I support his right to do so.
I acknowledge obviously that there are an increasing number of people who are offended by the name. There is no denying that honest, well-intentioned people are arguing, and feel strongly that the term is offensive. But intent matters. I strongly believe that there is zero intent to offend Native Americans among Redskins fans or football fans in general.
Furthermore, I would never suggest that I could tell other people what they interpret as offensive is valid or not. If you say you are offended, I believe you.
However, there are also many who are not offended. They are the many who have no ill will toward Native Americans and take pride in the name “Redskins.” They aren’t trying to demean anyone. They aren’t trying to rub salt in the wounds of Native Americans. On the contrary, it’s a term of admiration. These fans simply love their team and wish to cheer them on using the name they’ve always enjoyed.
It’s not much different than the name of a person. Some have gone so far as to name their child “Adolf.” Should those parents be forced to change the child’s name? The reference to Adolf Hitler is clearly offensive to most people. Yet the parents have the right to name their child as they see fit.
Dan Snyder inherited the name “Redskins” and doesn’t want to change it.
A large portion of the Redskin fan base doesn’t want to change the name either. Snyder presumably wants to keep his team’s fan base happy. He has that right. He has the right to offend you if he chooses.
I also believe we can choose to be offended or not. People can call us despicable names, and we can choose to be offended or choose to let it go. We can look at the intent and decide: is this person or entity trying to offend or not? I have never in my life encountered a single Redskins fan who uses the term to belittle, offend or discriminate against Native Americans in the context of a football game. Maybe there are some in this world…but I have yet to meet one or have one call into our radio show in 17 years.
I would suggest that the term “Redskins” is just one of an infinite number of controversial terms or subjects that some people have deemed offensive.
For example, there are plenty of religious groups that find strip clubs offensive. Many women’s rights groups find pornography or any perceived objectification of women offensive. And yet strip clubs and pornography still exist. Those that find those things offensive presumably don’t support them. They don’t frequent them. They may picket them from time to time. But there are also a great number of people who are NOT offended by them, and those people support them. The market allows those types of businesses either to flourish or fail.
It’s part of the beauty of living in this country — the right to be offended and to stand up for it. We can protest, write newspaper columns, and call in to radio shows to voice our displeasure. But so can our opponents. Both sides have the freedom and the right to their say, and we let the marketplace determine the outcome.
Many advocates of the name change suggest that the term somehow discriminates against Native Americans. However, there is a difference between something that is offensive and something that is discriminatory. I would suggest this is how opponents of the Redskins name continue to proceed: if you abhor the name, if you feel you can’t support the team, stop using the name. Absolutely stop buying jerseys and tickets to the games.
Naming the team “Redskins” is not illegal. It’s not preventing anyone from anything.
Some have suggested that standing up against the term “redskin” is very similar to the situation when people had to stand up for civil rights, a woman’s right to vote or gay marriage. But a team name is not discrimination, because it doesn’t prevent anyone from anything on the basis of being in a certain group or category. It’s simply the name of a football team.
The Washington Redskins franchise is the property of Dan Snyder. He can name them whatever he wants as long as he’s not breaking a law, just as he can buy a car, boat, house or hotel and name it whatever he wants. Our country’s laws are very protective of private property. Snyder could even open his own private club and invite only men to join. He can actually exclude women if he’d like because it would be his private club. He has that right.
A name alone cannot discriminate. Snyder has the right to name the Redskins whatever he and his fan base want to support.
Supporters of the name change often say “imagine if the Redskins were called the Washington ‘N-words.’” In some people’s minds, the term “redskin” and the n-word cause the same level of offense. The argument suggests they are both slurs. I would argue however that the n-word is a unique word that has almost no equivalent. The n-word is universally accepted as a slur. It can be used in few instances without almost assuredly inciting a riot. But even that term can be used in a non-offensive way in certain circumstances; for example, as slang among African-American men talking with each other sometimes. The term “redskin” is not seen as universally offensive even among Native Americans themselves. In fact a significant number of Native Americans don’t find the term offensive at all.
Some proponents of the name change have suggested that at the end of the day, changing the name is the right thing to do. If nothing else, they say, Snyder should change the name because of that simple reason.
Well who is to say what’s right and what’s not?
Would it not be the right thing to change the name of the Vikings, Pirates & Buccaneers while we are at it? Those groups of people were rapists, murderers and pillagers. Why are women’s groups not up in arms that those teams use those nicknames? Probably largely because it’s just a name of a sports team. It’s not meant to offend women for example.
The NAACP is an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. To call someone colored today would be considered offensive in most circles. Why is there no outrage there?
Probably because there is no INTENT to offend. Most can agree that the word colored in this context is intended to honor and uphold African-Americans in the same way when fans sing “Hail to the Redskins” they are intending to honor their team.
Dan Snyder has decided to keep the name Redskins to this point. He has tried to convey to anyone that listens that there is no intent to offend Native Americans, even though many still find the term offensive. He has no doubt heard those concerns and decided to exercise his right to keep the name, as is his prerogative in this great country in which we live. The same country that supports a person’s right to object to the name supports Snyder’s right to keep it.
So where do we go from here? I believe that both sides of this issue have ways to quell the controversy.
To opponents of the name, again I would suggest to stop buying jerseys and tickets to the games. Make your displeasure known. If you reach a critical mass, then the marketplace may be able to create change.
As for Snyder, one scenario I would strongly support is if he and the Redskins organization were to reach out to leading Native American groups, they could try to find a common ground: the Redskins formally pledge support to Native American causes in return for blessing for the use of the term. There are many serious issues plaguing Native Americans in this country including extreme poverty, poor schools, and lower-than-average life expectancies – it’s 58 in South Dakota.
If the Redskins could convince the Native American community that they intend to honor the bravery, courage and other positive traits—and not denigrate—maybe real change could be in motion. Maybe a percentage of merchandise sales or significant annual contributions to Native American causes – similar to the agreement reached between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe – could convince the community the Redskins want to help, not hurt, the proud Native American people.
Still, at the end of the day it’s Dan Snyder’s right to have the team named as he wishes. Those that don’t agree with him should continue to voice their opinion and displeasure if that’s right for them. They should stop going to games, buying tickets and jerseys and doing anything that supports the team. Ultimately it is the market that will decide if the name stays or goes— not a radio host, columnist for the Washington Post or an angry mob that takes offense.
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