R is for Redskins

I also puzzled over the Major League baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, less over the name, and more over what I consider the bizarre caricature of Chief Wahoo.

It’s football season in America – I mean, using the ball to the left, NOT the ball to the right.
When I was growing up, my father and I would watch, on our local CBS-TV affiliate, all the games of the New York Giants of the National Football League, who actually played in New York, not New Jersey, at the time. Their main rivals were, and are, the Philadelphia Eagles, the (hated) Dallas Cowboys, and the Washington Redskins. Even then, I found the nickname of the Washington team peculiar. Most teams were named for animals – Lions (Detroit NFL) and Tigers (Detroit baseball) and Bears (Chicago NFL), e.g. The ones that were named for people tended to be about geography (New York Yankees-baseball) or occupations (Pittsburgh’s baseball Pirates and NFL Steelers). “Redskins” seemed somehow unseemly, and this was long before I’d ever heard the pejorative term “politically correct.”

So, I was a little surprised to read here and elsewhere that the team’s owner had meant it as an honorific. This writer talks about the term’s historical usage, going back to the writings of American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, whose “use of redskin as a Native American in-group term was entirely authentic, reflecting both the accurate perception of the Indian self-image and the evolving respect among whites for the Indians’ distinct cultural perspective, whatever its prospects. The descent of this word into obloquy is a phenomenon of more recent times.”

Nevertheless, for some time, it has been the source of controversy, as American Indian Sports Team Mascots notes. In fact, only last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Washington Redskins can keep the team name. “Seven native Americans had sued to force the Washington Redskins to change the team name,” but the Court “let stand a ruling that their challenge came too late.” still, this article explains the issue well.

I also puzzled over the Major League baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, less over the name, and more over what I consider the bizarre caricature of Chief Wahoo. Here’s an article about the Indians’ mascot.

I suppose the Atlanta Braves baseball team name bugs me less than the incessant use of the tomahawk chop, more obnoxious when I heard it in Fulton County Stadium in 1995 than the video suggests.

And what of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame? This does not seem to be an issue. Then again, everyone’s Irish in America, especially in March.

What thinkest thou?

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

43 thoughts on “R is for Redskins”

  1. Politically correct is an interesting thing; sensitivity is good, but overly sensitive is bad. I suppose it’s easier to ignore reference which you’ve grown up with, especially if you’re not a member of the effected group. Although I think that “THe Poughkeepsie Polaks” is a GREAT name for a team! My high school had a Mohawk Indian for a “mascot” that there was a lot of controversy about, but apparently it was a made-up reference in any case. However, there is a college team, I believe it is the Florida Seminoles, in which the tribe ENDORSES the name (although I’m too lazy to Google for verification right now). It also reninds me of the soft-drink mix controversy in the ’60’s that included “Injum Orange” and “Chinese Cherry” in their flavour lineup. The latter was changed to “Choo-choo Cherry,” I don’t remember about the orange.

  2. The orange was changed to Jolly-Olly Orange; talk about useless info, immediately available in my brain!
    The local college, Siena, changed from the Indians to the Saints, more appropriate for a school run by Franciscans, and they’ve been a better college basketball power ever since. Coincidence?

  3. Great post as always, Roger! I think it’s easy to find racism almost anywhere today even though we like to think that we’ve moved past that part of history. We haven’t! Probably won’t! But one can always hope. Have a great week!


  4. hehehe time to support a team!I need to confess that I’m not “that kind of football fan”, but for those who really understand the game I think it’s time for fun!Enjoy Roger!
    REGARDS from Luxembourg

  5. Interesting commentary. Sometimes I think political correctness can go too far, but this would make a great debate issue. Happy R Week, Roger! 😀

  6. Growing up and hearing all the names of the team never made me think any less of that group. I always thought it was meant to be about how strong and brave the team was.
    Great thought provoking post as usual. That is a very interesting cartoon too.

  7. I don’t know anything about sports. I’ve always wanted to ask why do you call Amarican football “football”, and our football “soccer”? I don’t believe feet are used in your football, whereas in our foorball feet are almost only used and only the keeper is allowed to pick up the ball and to carry it.It’s a mystery for me!;)

  8. Roger you bring up some interesting points. To tell you the truth I’m not sure what I think. Right now I’m roughly certain that I’m not sure.

  9. Roger, Your post reminds me of an eye opening experience on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. Driving by a rural high school, we were amused and amazed. The marquee sign congratulated their football team, “The Red Mesa Indians.” We have a photo to prove it!

    I rec’d your package a few days ago – thank you so much – I love it! Be sure to check my “r” post – a little “heads up!”

  10. I agree with my fellow Canadian from East Gwillumbury. No matter what you say or do, someone will find something negative to say about it.
    However, if the indigenous peoples of North America protest the use of a name they consider racist, the idiots who hassle the protesters are only proving them to be correct.
    My brother Rob grew up in Mexico (see my R submission) and was accepted by his schoolmates, their parents, and the citizens of the town in spite of his (then) blond hair and his blue eyes. When he first encountered racism, he was puzzled – non-Hispanic tourists felt they could mistreat Mexicans, IN Mexico. Our Roberto was horrified when he realized how widespread this attitude was.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  11. Since I am not a football fan, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

    I do think sometimes things are taken far to seriously, and the true meaning as you pointed out is forgotten as times and peoples viewpoints have changed.

  12. I think that the pro teams are probably going to keep these names for the foreseeable future. Being that it is a professional team, owned by someone, and many of these have been around a while, it’s not going to be easy to get them to switch.

    I think it was good that the NCAA has told the schools to change their names (unless they got endorsements by those referenced in the name). It’s an easier situation to deal with, and being that it’s a place of higher education, it should have been a no-brainer.

  13. Interesting post and one that gives us a lot to think about. I guess the only real way to be sure is if people are offended by a word, then it’s offensive. But I think it’s a shame that names of long standing are being altered because modern culture has made them wrong. The intention was never to be offensive so I really think it’s a pity that we can’t all just understand the difference between a word that’s meant fondly and the same word when it’s meant as an insult.

  14. To me, fretting over things like this is a waste of time-I mean, spending the time and money to have a team change their name. I think time is better spent being an advocate for children who are abused; whether it is in this country or another. Children have very few advocates.
    Once again, great things to ponder and reflect!

  15. St. John’s University changed the name of their sports teams from Redmen to Redstorm. My Favorite is Manhattan College in The Bronx, the teams are called The “Jaspers”, named for a Christian Brother named Jasper!

  16. Roger, your name fits in well for this week’s round, right? Right! I normally try to stay away from discussions about being politically correct. I will jump in this time, though. My great-great grandfather was born on a Cherokee Indian Reservation. In my family tree are Cherokees who walked the Trail of Tears. I find no offense in the term Indian vs. Native American. If they made the mascots look ridiculous, then I could see getting upset. I think they rock, though. =)

  17. Never know what to expect when I arrive at your blog – but it is always refreshing and rewarding!
    Great post for the week!

  18. American football is not a popular sport in Europe. I have seen it playing only on TV in the States. Football is different that’s worldwide, you call it “soccer” !

  19. Sometimes PC just goes over the top. I am glad though none of that happens in the Netherlands and (generally) Europe, since most footballteams (played with a proper football) use either the town they hail from (Manchester Utd, AS Roma) or a Greek God (Ajax-Amsterdam) or occasionally even the sponsor. The nicknames will be made up by the opposing teams and will always be politically extremely incorrect.

  20. Over here, the American football is called Rugby. Quiet popular here but of course not as well known as the soccer ( football).

  21. I prefer rugby to football though it’s interesting to hear the commentators talking about playing football. Correctly, rugby is rugby football – confusing, eh?

  22. I think people take this stuff way too personally, thought I am not surprised that no team is called “The Polacks.” Yes, I do have beloved family who happen to be Polish, and I think I just might have a bit in me too. All that said, I happen to be blond too, naturally. 🙂

  23. Always learn something when I visit. Lot of UK folk that are into American football follow the redskins. Perhaps because of our romantic view of the history of native americans, or perhaps the team were on a winning streak when Channel 4 TV began regularly broadcasting year ago.

  24. The Kansas City Chiefs have had the same controversy over the years. I don’t believe the name is intended to ridicule Native Americans. The stadium is named Arrowhead. When I was a child I remember their mascot being an Indian dressed in full regalia who rode on a horse called Warpaint. That mascot disappeared and the KC Wolf character took over. Ethnically-neutral, he spawned the “Wolfpack,” which is distantly connected to Native Americans, but not in an overt way. Years ago, in an attempt to be “politically correct,” the fans were discouraged from doing the Tomahawk Chop towards when the opposing team’s offense was on the field. It was wildly unsuccessful.

  25. This post was a great read!

    At UMass, the football team is The Minutemen. Every one in a while, the controversy is reborn that it should be changed to The Minutepeople, or some such thing! 😉 Just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? But that’s the Pioneer Valley for ya! And I love living here, by the way!


  26. I’m pretty sure that the Irish in Ireland would be most offended by the term ‘Fighting Irish’ .. except those few who would be proud of the term in the way that some people are proud of being streetwise, or tough. Just the same as the Welsh object to being lumped all together as singers or miners, and the Scots object to being spoken of as tightfisted.

    But yes, I’d read that the name ‘Washington Redskins’ was meant as an honour.

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