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Washington Redskins: Readers respond to likely name change

For the Tuesday Oklahoman, I wrote about the Washington Redskins likely – finally – changing their nickname. I figured readers would be worked up by the question, but I didn’t think so many would support my view that Redskins clearly is a slur and should be changed. My phone calls and emails ran about 60/40 in support of my column, but I thought I would share a smattering of the responses, from both sides.

Ron: “Great article, couldn’t agree more. I was a member of the OKCPS Board of Education when we voted to remove the Redskin name from Capitol Hill High School. That was a few years ago, and to this day several of my friends and neighbors still hold that against me and the board, and a few have not spoken to me. They just don’t get it.”

And now, even Tulsa Union, which has been as steadfast as Daniel Snyder in protecting the Redskin nickname, is talking about change.

 

Kevin: “I have always loved your brilliant writing and listening to you on the Sports Animal. You are swinging way too far left, Berry, for this reader/listener. You are one of the last reasons I still subscribe. Come on, your Sooners are named after cheaters! The Cowboys killed Native Americans. What’s next in this ‘don’t hurt my feelings’ society? I do understand that stirring the pot is part of your job, getting good opinions and conversation created. Someone needs to report on the ‘good.’ It’s out there, I promise.”

Some would say that the Redskins changing their name is “good.” I appreciate the kind words, but like I wrote, I brought up Redskins literally 30 years ago. How is that swinging too far left. Lots of disputed mascots can be debated. But Redskins? How is that debatable?

Jim: “I remember a column you wrote a long time ago about sports nicknames. In it, you said that you had no issue with the name ‘Savages,’ as long as the mascot was a blue-clad cavalry officer. And I can’t remember if it was you or some other writer who asked the following question, ‘If the Washington Redskins is acceptable, how about the Pittsburgh N****s or the Philadelphia Jews?’ It is time for change.”

Well, I don’t remember writing about the Cavalry and Savages. But the point is well made. It’s often not the name, it’s the imagery associated with the name. Grinning Chief Wahoo with the Cleveland Indians is a prime example.

Gene: “Please do not forget all of the other nicknames that offend, such as Cowboys (who killed and lynched many), Warriors, Indians, Saints, Sun Devils, Blackhawks, Seminoles, Sooners, etc. And should we get into animal nicknames that might offend other species. When will this crap end? I have several friends who are 100% Indian heritage and they say it is BS and they are totally happy with the name and do not consider it racist. We have now made the term ‘racist’ mean anything you disagree with.”

Or maybe “racist” refers to the terms that have fallen out of use -- literally no one uses the phrase "redskin," except as a sports mascot " -- because they are so insulting.

Mark: “I thought teams chose a team name because the image that it portrayed was one that brought honor and pride to their team? After all, why would someone name their team after something that someone would consider dishonorable? We judge ourselves by OUR actual intentions. We judge others by OUR perception of their intentions. I ask you, do you know the actual intention of those who chose the name Redskin? Was it to denigrate Native Americans as savages, or was it chosen because the image put forth was one that represented bravery, honor and an ability to battle fiercely to victory? Which do you think is more likely? I love our state’s Native American heritage. I grew up in Ponca City and have had significant life-long relationships with many Native American families. Finally, can you tell me just what would be a team name that honorably commemorates Native Americans? How long will it be before the term ‘Braves’ is also considered a racial slur? After all, George Washington was a slave owner. In that light, some would also strike the name ‘Washington’ from the team name. Here’s a challenge for you; go through all of the team names, both colleges and professional, and I’ll bet you that you can find someone who can be offended by more than half of them. The name Buccaneers is purely a slur against pirates.”

Thanks for writing. But trotting out the intent of the founder of the name is a bad play. That would be George Preston Marshall, whose racism has been well-documented over the years. The Redskins were the last NFL team to break the color barrier. I have no idea what his intent was. But there’s little reason to believe he considered the impact, pro or con, on American Indians. And Redskins isn’t being changed because “someone” was offended. It’s finally being changed because many people have been offended for decades.

Gary: “Great article on team’s names and mascots. I have forgotten how many local schools had changed their names: OCU, Bethany Nazarene, and others. I’m old enough to remember Little Red at OU games and seem to remember that someone tried to bring it back during the 1986 Texas game. I may be wrong, my neurons don’t work as well these days.”

Could be. There have been periodic uprisings about Little Red, but they usually don't last long.

Dave: “Too bad some are ashamed of their heritage. My family always thought it was impressive to see OU’s Little Red dance. Next, they will be banning Florida’s Indian rider who spears the opponent’s end of the field. An impressive sight to behold!”

That’s Florida State’s Chief Osceola, of course, and I think that’s the Redskin detractors’ point, that Indian imagery is not supposed to be for the masses’ entertainment.

Chuck: “In light of the controversy surrounding the Centennial Land Run monument in Bricktown, I would love to read your analysis of Boomer-Sooner and all that goes with it. Can OU continue to use it? I appreciate your perspective on things and your willingness to write about controversial subjects.”

There are occasional protests about “Sooners,” and that probably won’t end. My argument would be that Boomers is much more offensive than Sooners. Boomers are the people who rallied, eventually with success, to get land from the Indians. Sooners were just the cheaters who got land away from other Boomers.

 

Bill: “Appreciated the article regarding Native peoples. Different peoples can be Braves, Warriors, Chiefs, etc. But names like Redskins, Redmen, Savages, with Native identities and the like, is what we object to. If Tecumseh High School wants to keep the name ‘Savages,’ just change the image to that of any other ethnic group, any group, and put it on billboards and see how long that lasts. I am a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, full blood. People mean well at times with the naming of teams. For example, and I'm sure you already know this, the Cleveland Indians were once called the Spiders. The name was changed in honor of one of their players, Louis Sockalecsis, a great player, a Native of one of the area tribes.”

The Savages point is well-made. Wouldn’t last long.

 

Louis: “So are you and the owners and athletic directors are now gonna change ALL names that are offensive? Gimmie a break, this movement is totally gotten out of hand. STOP. Two criminals are killed, right or wrong, still dead and the whole country starts to rob, loot and burn and wants, no, DEMAMDS that the name of certain athletic teams be changed, statues removed, mountains demolished, and on and on. For one, it is time for some push back. Changing the names isn't going to change a lot.”

Sometimes you don’t have to respond. You just let people talk themselves into showing you what this is all about.

Michael: “I was hoping you would include the Nebraska Bugeaters. All my Cornhusker friends tell me that the N on the helmets stands for knowledge. At least they were smart enough to go with a name change!”

After the previous email, I needed some levity.

Clay: “I completely agree that Washington and any other team with Redskins as a mascot should change their name. I have questions about Mr. Tsotigh’s opinions. First, I don't identify as a Native American and I'm not trying to say how anybody should feel about issues. However, he said 'we have so little to glorify in our Native community.’ It would seem that Warriors, Chiefs and Braves would be glorifying their heritage, especially the Chiefs. Yes, the imagery should change some at the venues of these teams. How is this different than Spartans, Fighting Irish and many other mascots? He also says ‘To classify us alongside all the animals who are mascots is dehumanizing.’ There are plenty of mascots who aren't animals. Do OSU and Dallas Cowboy fans feel their team is dehumanizing them? Mr. Tsotigh probably has very good answers to my questions.”

Good questions. I assume Tsotigh would say – or at least I would say – that Cowboys and Buccaneers and whoever aren’t a race of people. Spartans, best as I can tell, are like the Trojans. Relegated to history. But I would say that “Fighting Irish” absolutely is problematic. That name has its roots in prejudice; the stereotype of Irish immigrants as brawlers in the late 1800s/early 1900s. 

Jan: “Good article today. What are your thoughts about the Eskimo Joe character? I have always been offended by that portrayal of Eskimos.”

I assume all kinds of people question the Eskimo Joe’s image, but Eskimos aren’t in great abundance, especially in the American Southwest, and thus don’t have much of a protest platform.

Paul: “Good column today. The KC Chiefs name does not refer to Indians but to a person, H. Roe Bartle. But it causes enough discomfort that it should probably be changed.”

The Chiefs indeed were named after Bartle, who was a KC mayor nicknamed “The Chief.” But then there’s that arrowhead on the Chief helmets, and suddenly the lines get blurred. I always thought OCU could have kept the Chiefs name and changed the imagery to something like a fire chief.

Don: “Even Indian Schools are being pressed to eliminate Indian monikers. Dartmouth originated as a school for Native Americans; William & Mary was founded largely by funds raised by Indians in Virginia, going back to Pocahontas herself. However, W&M was forced to change its nickname from Indians to "Tribe,” while Dartmouth became Big Green rather than Indians. And in the height of silliness Tennessee-Chattanooga, was forced to become the Mocs (whatever that is) because Moccasins had an Indian connotation. I had always thought it referred to Water Moccasins, which was bit creepy.

In Oklahoma high schools, Indian schools Sequoyah and Riverside both have Indian nicknames.

 

Brandon: “After seeing your article regarding the Redskins, do you think there could be a push vs. Boomer Sooner. The Boomer movement led by David Couch and William Payne was aimed directly at Indian Territory lands owned by Natives. Curious of your take?

Like I said, “Boomer” is more “vulnerable than “Sooner.” It’s possible that Natives are not worked about Sooners. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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