Arguments for and against the redskins name change

While Congress may have ended the government shutdown and resolved the debt ceiling crisis, one debate in the D.C. area seems nowhere near a solution: the argu­ment of whether the Washington Redskins should change their name.

The debate about the Redskins name stems from the issue of whether Redskins is a racial slur toward Native Americans or simply an 80-year old nickname that symbolizes pride and celebrates the tradition of Native Americans.

In an unscientific poll of the Mason community, through, 60.45 percent of the 134 respondents believed that Washington should not change their nickname.

This result goes in line with other informal and formal polls available. In an ongoing Washington Post online poll that began on Oct. 3, as of this publication date, 57 percent of those who weighed in believe that Washington should not change their name.

The Redskins name has popular support, but the controversy over the name led Washington owner Daniel Snyder to write an open letter to the fans regarding his stead­fast support of the Redskins name.

Snyder recalls going to Redskins games with his father and how the experience of the game and being united under the tradition of the Redskins name with his father was a formative bonding experience.

“That tradition -- the song, the cheer -- it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation,” Snyder said. “Our past isn’t just where we came from -- it’s who we are.”

Snyder, beyond anecdotal backing, also cited a 2004 poll of Native Americans that supported the name.

“The highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center polled nearly 1,000 self-identified Native Americans from across the conti­nental U.S. and found that 90% of Native

Americans did not find the team name ‘Washington Redskins’ to be ‘offensive,’” Snyder said.

Supporters of the Redskins name, like Snyder, ground arguments in tradition and pride in the nickname as an unifying moniker. Mason professor Eric Gary Anderson, coor­dinator of the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor has a different take.

“The team’s management tells one story about the team name’s history, but it’s important to see their story as only one version of a more complicated and contentious history,” Anderson said. “Taking a look at not decades but centuries of American Indian history, and at not decades but centuries of Indian-white and Indian-nonwhite relations, what [be]comes clear is that this team’s name connects to an extensive history of American racism.”

Anderson believes the name itself also paints a larger picture of relationships between Native Americans and society.

“[The name] stereotypes Indians,” Anderson said. “And, very much connected, the name is an example of non-Indians defining and char­acterizing Indians. It’s much more important, and much more neces­sary, that Indians represent them­selves and that Indians determine for themselves how they wish to be represented.”

Anderson believes that the Redskins name is a racial slur and chooses not to call the team by their nickname.

“Legally, I suppose the team has the right to keep its name,” Anderson said. “But morally and ethically, the team is in the wrong, in my view.”

The other poll cited in Snyder’s open letter as evidence of popular support for keeping the Redskins name was an April 2013 Associated Press survey where 79 percent of 1,004 respondents favored keeping the name while only 11 percent thought the name should be changed.

“Sadly, I’m not all that surprised by the results of the poll you cite. Some Americans don’t realize that American Indians still exist, even,” Anderson said. “There is a huge amount of work to be done in raising awareness about American Indian history and about Indian cultures and experiences and perspectives.”

Those who oppose the Redskins name, like Anderson, cite the general history of American culture ignoring the plight of Native Americans.

“[It is right to point out] support for this team’s name connects to the U.S.’s ability and willingness to ignore Indians, to remove them, one way or another, from their land and to disappear them from contempo­rary, mainstream, dominant-culture life in general,” Anderson said. “And then to prop up this team name, and the image on the helmet and on all the merchandise, as a way of trying to argue that they/we are not ignor­ing them.”

With all the debate from both sides of the argument, it could be expected that fence-sitters, or those without a view on the issue, would be swayed one way or the other.

Fourth Estate’s poll results said otherwise. 66.16 percent of respondents strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement, ‘the recent debate over the name change has made me rethink my view on the Redskins name.’

The assumption could be made then that this issue elicits strong opinions from people.

On this issue, there is seemingly no middle ground.

The history of the team name dates back to 1932, when the team was located in

Boston and the nickname was the ‘Braves.’ The next year, the team was renamed the ‘Redskins’ because of a decision by then-owner George Preston Marshall, which is where the story gets muddled.

In 1933, the team fielded four Native American players and was led by head coach William Henry ‘Lone Star’ Dietz. Dietz claimed to be part-Sioux and in a Washington Post op-ed piece -- that has been lost to time -- Marshall’s grand­daughter claimed that her grand­father renamed the team in Dietz’s honor.

It remains a mystery today if Dietz was of Native American descent. In a 2013 paper, in the magazine of the Montana Historical Society, titled, ‘On Trial The Washington R*dskins’ Wily Mascot: Coach William ‘Lone Star’ Dietz,” Linda M. Waggoner’s key piece of evidence against Dietz’s Sioux heritage was a June 1919 federal trial against Dietz.

In the trial, Dietz was accused of violating the Selective Service Law. The charges against him were falsely registering as “a non-citizen Indian of the U.S.” and making false state­ments related to his ability and eligi­bility to serve in the military

The assistant district attorney believed that Dietz was a natural born citizen of the U.S. and was a white person born in Barron County, Wisconsin. After twists and turns in the trial, the jury failed to reach a verdict. In Waggoner’s opinion, Dietz lied about his Sioux heritage.

The results of our poll as well as the man-on-the-street survey we conducted show that the Mason community’s views align with the popular opinion. Anderson has taken the informal opinion of the indigenous students at Mason.

“I’ve talked with Indigenous students -- members of the GMU Native American and Indigenous Alliance as well as students in my classes,” Anderson said. “They don’t come to a unanimous consensus about the name, but I would say that the majority of the Native students I’ve talked to about this agree that the name is offensive and should be changed.


No votes yet
Student Media Group: