Ironically, in his defense of the name "Redskins," ESPN columnist Rick Reilly may have given fuel to those fighting to get the NFL's Washington franchise to drop its controversial nickname.
Reilly, one of the most well-known sports columnists in the United States, sparked an uproar with his recent column defending the Redskins' nickname. People were especially upset with his shocking and strange conclusion, which compared current efforts to change the Redskins nickname to past efforts that resulted in Native Americans being placed on reservations.
In his column, Reilly pointed out that not all Native Americans take offense to the Redskins nickname. True enough. However, in writing his defense of the nickname, Reilly unwittingly revealed his ignorance of how cultural stereotypes are developed and how through hegemonic influence even those being stereotyped can unknowingly fall in line with the dominant view.
As the Purpose Statement of Concerned American Indian Parents, a group dedicated to eliminating the use of Native American stereotypes in advertising and sports, says, Anglos have been stereotyping Native Americans for so long that they don't even realize they are doing it. The stereotypes are so commonplace they have become accepted as valid depictions of native peoples.
People say that team names and mascots based on stereotypes are not meant to offend anyone, even though they exploit, trivialize, and demean the history and cultural heritage of Native Americans.
The dominant view stereotypes of Native Americans continue to be portrayed in the media and entertainment industries, as well as within our schools. Continued acceptance of these stereotypes thwarts the education of our children.
"So-called Indian mascots reduce hundreds of Indigenous tribes to generic cartoons," according to Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, Director and Professor, Indigenous Nations Studies, Portland State University. "These 'Wild West' figments of the white imagination distort both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children's attitudes toward an oppressed -- and diverse -- minority. Schools should be places where students come to unlearn the stereotypes such mascots represent. The Indigenous portrait of the moment may be bellicose or ludicrous or romantic, but almost never is the portrait we see of Indian mascots a real person.
"There's nothing in Indigenous cultures that I'm aware of that aspires to be a mascot, logo, or nickname for athletic teams. Teachers should research the matter and discover that Indigenous Peoples would never have associated the sacred practices of becoming a warrior with the hoopla of a pep rally, half-time entertainment, or a side-kick to cheerleaders."
A team nickname based on the skin color of a race of people, and with such a sordid history as the term "Redskins," simply can't be justified.
Jay Coakley, one of the country's most well-respected sports sociologists, says the use of the name Redskins "symbolizes a continuing lack of understanding of the complex and diverse cultures and the heritage of native peoples and is offensive to anyone aware of the history of native peoples in North America."
USA Today columnist Christine Brennan has decided not to use the nickname "Redskins" any longer in her work. In coming to her decision, she wrote, "It's the right thing to do. If that's not reason enough, try explaining and defending the nickname to a child. It's impossible."
Yes, there is a lot of history and tradition tied to the nickname "Redskins" -- for the NFL in general, and the Washington franchise in particular. Not all of it is negative and offensive but way too much of it is. As such, it's a tradition that must end.
A Washington D.C. NFL franchise without the nickname Redskins will undoubtedly be strange for a while, but we can collectively move forward. There are a lot of American traditions that we've let go of as a country, including slavery, segregation, and prohibiting women from voting. There comes a time when tradition must be left behind in order to progress as a society.
Let's be honest. The Redskins name is doomed. It's a relic and it will eventually go away.
Our challenge as a country is to make that happen sooner rather than later.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans (www.leagueoffans.org)