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Dan Snyder, The Redskins and a Short History of Racist Team Names

Whether Dan Snyder likes it or not, his team's name is a living reminder of this barbaric, genocidal practice.
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By Shawn Setaro

We at News Genius have lately been expanding our coverage to include contextualizing and analyzing stories in the sports world. One of our first and most vital entries was also one of the shortest.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder insisted recently to USA Today that he "will never change the name of the team." While we admire his brevity, clarity, and capitalization skills, we can't help but wonder about something.

Snyder claimed that Redskins fans "understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means." While he no doubt meant his team's 80-year history, there is another "great tradition" that also fits - the long history of racist sports team names and mascots.

Native American history -- and stereotyping -- has long been source material for team monikers. From the Chiefs to the Braves to the Hawks to the Seminoles, outfits at all levels have relied on First Nations for the words on their jerseys and inspiration for their cartoonish mascots.

These names were taken with little consideration for the actual people whose history and culture they were scouring. That finally began to change in the late 1960's, when Native groups began advocating for institutions to drop offensive team names.

Slowly, there was progress. Team jerseys and mascots began changing one by one, as schools were held accountable for the damage they were causing. Even the NCAA finally came around in 2005, banning "hostile or abusive" Native mascots. That same year, the American Psychological Association acknowledged that American Indian mascots and symbols create a hostile environment, and effectively amount to discrimination.

None of this, however, matters to Snyder. Nor, apparently, does the fact that according to pretty much every source, from the dictionary to Native writers, the term "redskins" is a horrifying one, referring to the scalps of Natives that were sold for bounties in the 17th and 18th centuries. Massachusetts in particular was a major offender, offering huge money for native scalps, but scalping bounties existed in every state in New England during that period, as well as in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and more. Scalps of men ("men" meaning "any male over twelve") paid the most, but women and children were not far behind.

Whether Dan Snyder likes it or not, his team's name is a living reminder of this barbaric, genocidal practice. His stubbornness in the face of lawsuits and legislation seems like a 21st century version of George Wallace's similarly retrograde call for "segregation forever," and hopefully his outburst will look just as archaic in the not-too-distant future.

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