What’s in a Name?

The excitement in Washington, DC these days surrounding the fortunes of the Washington Redskins, its beloved football team and the stellar play of its rookie quarterback, is  more palpable than that for anything playing out in its political arena.

Nothing, including the deficit, matters as much to dyed-in-the-burgundy-and-gold Washingtonians, which makes it all the more ironic, that years of protest by the Native American community regarding the offensive name of the team passes as unnoticed by the ownership, as the protesters at each home game being avoided by the revelry of fans.

It is undeniable that the name is a pejorative viewed with equal anathema by the Native American community as the infamous ‘N’ word is by blacks. George Preston Marshall, the founder and owner of the team from 1932 until his death in 1963 was such an unabashed racist that his legacy to his foundation had the qualification that none of it could be used “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.”

It was this history that caused many black Washingtonians for generations to root against the team.

Nonetheless, the current owner and management steadfastly refuse to change the team’s name. The fans appear notably unconcerned. Many share the sentiment that the name is racist, but few are willing to allow the issue to get in the way of enjoying their favorite past time.

This attitude is disturbing. Even more so, where it is present among those who have suffered similar discrimination and injustice. It is easy to become cynical about what change anyone can bring about, and we are all beset with problems that at times overwhelm us, but it is regrettable when we are unsympathetic to the plight of others.

There are any number of ready excuses to avoid the discomfort of having to give up one’s identification with a familiar team name and learn to use a new one. However, where the name is justifiably offensive to a group of fellow citizens, it is unconscionable that those not directly targeted by its ugliness do not find our shared humanity sufficient reason to be equally offended.

For, to paraphrase the Bard, ‘that which we call The Redskins, by any other name would smell as sweet or stink up the joint as much on any given Sunday.’

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