October 10, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 25

No use for the term 'redskin'

Crunch Time

At the risk of being saddled with another label, here goes.

I think the Washington Redskins should change their name. There, I said it, let the labeling and derision begin.

For those not up on this, the Oneida Nation, based in central New York state, launched a “Change the Mascot” campaign a couple months ago to get the football team in the nation’s capital to change its 80-year-old name. The Oneidas, and many other Native American tribes, consider the word “redskin” to be insulting and a racial slur, something akin to the “n” word once used to refer to blacks.

Since the campaign began some prominent sportswriters have stopped using the name in stories. A group that includes former Federal Communication Commission chairman Reed Hundt is launching efforts to persuade broadcasters from using it on the airwaves.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that if even one fan is offended, there should be a discussion and has directed senior vice president for labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch to meet with the Oneida Nov. 22. President Obama has spoken in favor of a name change.

Even some Redskins fans support a name change, but not owner Dan Snyder. Snyder told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

It seems silly to initiate and perpetuate such controversy and conflict over something as small as a name. After all, it’s just a word. Words themselves don’t have impact, just the actions and beliefs that lie behind them, right?

That’s part of the anti-political correctness crowd’s argument, and it’s one I have made before as well. It’s the actions or beliefs that are hurtful, not the name.

But the name becomes associated with those actions and beliefs, often prejudicial, racially motivated, tinged with hatred and stereotypical. Often these beliefs are wrong.

Names or phrases never hurt people, unless you’re the one the name is being used against. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and I got hung with the “preacher’s kid” moniker when I entered seventh-grade.

I knew what the phrase referred too – someone who was a goodie-two-shoes, somewhat self-righteous and maybe overly enthusiastic about religion. But that wasn’t how I saw myself, and it created conflict within me to try to dispel the stereotype.

So when I read clinical psychologist Michael Friedman telling a symposium held on the Redskins issue that his research reveals negative effects of this kind of stigma and discrimination amounting to harassment and causing mental and even physical harm, it resonates within me.

Throw into the mix the facts that Native Americans face higher rates of depression, alcoholism and suicide and anything that can potentially exacerbate those problems is something that should be tackled in a manner that would eliminate it as a contributing factor.

I know many people are rolling their eyes on this, but we’re not the ones bearing the name-calling. Perhaps we should, taking on nicknames that describe the horrible actions and misdeeds of us white folk in the past, just for starters.

Native Americans don’t view themselves as “redskins” or even “Indians.” Those were names hung on them by the early explorers and settlers to lump them together into one group, a group to be feared and then exploited and moved aside in our desire to take land and become wealthy while remaining free.

It’s time we put that part of our history in the past, and getting rid of the Redskins nickname would be a start. At the very least, think back on nicknames you were saddled with when younger, and how it made you feel. If we can tap into those uncomfortable memories, maybe it will create some symbiosis with the Oneida and other tribes to create unity.

We’re all Americans. We’re better than this. What does it matter to us if the D.C. team is called the Redskins, or say, the Wildcats, the name my old high school changed to years ago from Redskins.

It’s not political correctness. It’s being decent human beings.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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