At some point we all have to evolve as individuals, communities, societies and yes this includes professional football teams, their names and their owners.
The owner of the NFL Washington Redskins football team, Daniel Snyder, was quoted by USA Today Sports as saying “We will never change the name of the team. As a lifelong R word fan, and I think that the R word fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season. We’ll never change the name, it’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
I say to that – REALLY?!?! – I’m putting it in caps. Digging in your heels and pretending the name is not offensive and a racial slur will not make this issue go away. When I first thought about writing this blog post I was going to provide the history around the r word and that information would serve as the underpinning of why the word should not be used.
After careful thought I do not feel it is necessary to go into a history lesson on why we should not use the word. We know it is not okay use the r word… well most of us do anyway. Instead, I would like to examine the history of the Washington Football team as well as the feelings those who are being directly affected by the team name: Native Americans.
People who the word so not have authority on whether it is derogatory or inappropriate for use. I feel the same about the n word; no one can dictate what is and is not offensive to me about that word. It would not be acceptable for the team to be called the Washington Black N word football team. I see no difference with what is going on here; Native American should have the same say about the r word.
I am not sure how many football fans know the “great tradition” from which the Redskins Organization comes from as Daniel Snyder suggests. It may surprise many that the Washington football team is rooted in intolerance and racism, and these themes sadly are continuing today. With the insensitivity and unwillingness to realize times have changed, Mr. Snyder is following in the footsteps of the founder and first owner of his football team George Marshall Preston.
In 1932, the Washington football team was established and bought by George Marshall Preston. The original name was the Braves and the team started in Boston. A year later the team name was changed to the R word, and moved to Washington, D.C. George Marshall Preston wanted his team to have the excitement and atmosphere similar to college football teams. He arranged for the team to have a band and a team fight song. The team’s fight song Hail to the R word was written in the mid 1930’s by George Marshall Preston’s wife, Corinne Griffith. The words have a very deliberate meaning, uplifting suppression and the celebration of violence. The original words to the Washington fight song were as follows:
Hail to the R word!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old Dixie!
Run or pass and score — we want a lot more!
Scalp ’em, swamp ’em — We will take ’em big score
Read ’em, weep ’em, touchdown – we want heap more
Fight on, Fight on — ‘Till you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!
To put the song in context, think about 1930s’ in the United States. The referencing to “old Dixie” is significant; it is a reference to “the old south”, the old south of segregation. The “scalp ‘em, swamp’ em” line refers violence to Native Americans. In the last line “sons of Washington” is referring to the white sons of Washington.George Marshall Preston was a known racist in the NFL.
He refused to draft African-American football players to the team. This changed only when people began to boycott the team and the federal government threatened legal action against his team in the 1960s’. During the team’s early development there were no southern football teams. Accordingly, George Marshall Preston targeted southerners for his fans base. So, it is not a coincidence that Mr. Preston was not open to drafting African American players.
Now fast forward to today. So many are speaking out about the need for Mr. Snyder to change the name of his football team, because using the r word is derogatory and is indeed a racial slur. He remains on the wrong side of history, refusing to meet with Native American leaders to discuss the issue and to defend his stance to the very people he is disrespecting.
The National Congress of American Indians is opposed to the use of the name. Ray Halbritter, the National Representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprise, is one of many leaders that is taking the charge for change. Mr. Halbritter said on MSNBC, referring to the r word, “it’s a racist slur and an offensive name”. He went on to say for some Americans “the only contact with Native Americans is through this slur” and it has an impact on the self-esteem of his people. Mr. Halbritter is not alone; many other Native American leaders have spoken out against the name.
I have heard and read comments by many Non-Native Americans stating that the name is not meant to offend anyone. Well, I’m sorry but that response is just not acceptable when we know by Native Americans and their leaders the term is hurtful and demeaning.
Another Native American leader taking action is Amanda Blackhorse, a Native American Advocate. She has filed a petition with the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. She hopes to cancel the Washington NFL team trademark registrations.
There are many Americans who want to see the name changed. One in particular is President Obama. When asked about the name change he stated, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” He also said, “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
As for me, I will no longer use the term again when watching the Washington NFL team play; I will refer to them as Washington. If they play my team, the Chicago Bears it will be the Bears vs. Washington.
I REALLY hope for the day, a day very soon when Mr. Dan Snyder does the right thing and changes the slur he calls his football team to something more appropriate.