I hadn’t planned to write about the latest iteration of the dispute over the Washington Redskins name. Even after President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bob Costas, and (most importantly) Charles Krauthammer weighed in — all on the side of name-change — I didn’t feel the need to comment.
But word that Redskins owner Dan Snyder may be contemplating changing the team name to Bravehearts (good thing Albert Haynesworth isn’t on the squad anymore) has induced me to comment.
I’ve been a Redskins fan for almost 55 years. But it doesn’t matter very much to me what the team is called. For the reasons stated below, I don’t think the name needs to be changed. And I have a conservative’s bias against changing the name of things. But if an owner wants to call the Redskins something else, that’s okay too.
What I’d rather not see is a name-change that results from pressure by the racial-ethnic grievance industry, the Native American branch of which I have personal experience with.
And this is exactly the prospect we’re looking at under the current ownership. If Snyder changes the team name, it won’t be out of a sense of propriety. He has argued that, far from being offensive, the team name honors Native Americans. Thus, a name-change under Snyder’s watch will be down to the speech police.
This wouldn’t matter if the name “Redskins” were genuinely indecent or otherwise offensive to a reasonable Indian (a reasonableness test must used to prevent behavior from being dictated by whim or by raw exercise of power). One can easily conceive of team names that are plainly indefensible. The abandonment of such names would be welcome regardless of an owner’s motive.
It is plausible, in the abstract, to think that “Redskins” might be such a name. But polling seems to show that Indians as a group don’t find the name offensive. Indeed, it appears that a number of high schools, including some whose student body consists mostly of Indians, use the name “Redskins” for their sports teams (though others have recently abandoned the name).
This empirical evidence undercuts the claim that the name is offensive to reasonable Indians. If that claim fails, there is no good reason for Snyder to change his team’s name.
Krauthammer argues that polling is irrelevant. He says he eschews the word “gyp” because it is a slur on Gypsies, and would do so regardless of what polls might show.
But the “Redskins” name ascribes no undesirable personal characteristic to Indians. It simply denotes skin color, just as the label “Black” does. That label was the politically correct one for decades and is still (to my knowledge) considered quite acceptable.
Krauthammer also argues that we wouldn’t use the word Redskin -– not even in private — to describe an Indian, just as we no longer use the word Negro to describe an African-American. This is true. The minority groups in question have decided that they would rather be called something else, and people have a right (within reason) to be called whatever they prefer. For that reason, I reluctantly refer to homosexuals as “Gays” even though the name borders on the ridiculous.
But to say “Washington Redskins” is to refer to a sports team, not an individual. So the issue isn’t whether an Indian would rather not be called a Redskin; the issue is whether Indians don’t want sports teams to be called Redskins. As noted above, Indians don’t seem to mind.
I imagine that this will change, and perhaps soon, as the grievance industry continues to hammer away. But for now, no name-change is needed, and I would prefer that Snyder resist the pressure to change the team name, as he has promised Redskins fans he will do.
If Snyder does knuckle under, his team will be unworthy of the name Bravehearts.