Sports commentary: What's in a name?

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Redskins' issue should be handled in mature manner

By Mike Forster


Serious topics merit serious action.  And discussion.

Lately, things seem to be getting fired up about the Washington Redskins.  

The debate isn't whether the team has the right pieces in place to make the playoffs (it does).

Nor is it about whether last year's sensation, RG III, will be pushed into action prematurely (I certainly hope not).

The controversy is over the team's name.  Now, this issue erupts every so often.  Now, on the cusp of the season, it has arisen once more.

For starters, some members of the Washington City Council called on the team to change its name from the Redskins to the Redtails, or some such nonsense.

It might behoove members of that august body to note that the team doesn't even play within the city's limits, having headed to Maryland a couple of decades ago.

Additionally, news organization MSNBC has declared that it will no longer refer to the team as the Redskins.  Instead, it refers to it as "The Washington team."  One of its commentators went so far as to call the team "The R-word" during her rant.

First, MSNBC's ploy here is a juvenile stunt designed, I'm sure, to up the ratings for a network that has falling numbers.  Hey, that's what capitalism is all about, right?

Second, if these folks were serious, they'd enlist the backing of parent organization NBC.  The parent, however, broadcasts NFL games through NBC-Sports.  It's one thing for a news organization to adopt the "No R-word policy."  It's quite another for a sports outfit to do so.

The move does, however, merit us asking if the NFL franchise is doing the right thing.

Let me give full disclosure.  My blue eyes and pasty white skin belie the fact that there is no Cherokee or Chippewa blood coursing through these veins.  (Maybe a bit of German pilsner or Irish whiskey, but that's for another time.)

I don't even have any friends who are affiliated with a tribe.

Nor am I a big fan of the Redskins.  

Therefore, I don't have a dog in this fight.

But I do know our sports are loaded with Native American imagery.  I believe much of it provides a positive portrayal of Native Americans.  The Atlanta Braves are a good example of the good.  The mascot is fearsome looking.  The name should instill pride:  Who could have an issue with bravery, after all?

The Golden State Warriors are another example of solid Native American imagery.

A few years ago, the NCAA went on a tear, pretty much wiping out any American Indian mascots or names.  

Some of the changes were quite inane.  For example, the Stanford Indians became the Stanford Cardinal.  Not Cardinals, as in birds or holy men, but Cardinal, as in the color.

William and Mary went from  being the Indians to the Tribe.  Their new mascot is a griffin:  a creature that is half-lion, half-eagle.  And half-baked.

The Washington Redskins started out as neither the Redskins nor in Washington.  They began their NFL run as the Boston Braves, before heading to our nation's capital and assuming a new moniker.

They've had that name for nearly 90 years:  Tradition should count for something.  But, Art Monk and Darrell Green, two iconic Redskins players have spoken out on their desire to see the team change its name.

That certainly counts for something, too.

While I'm not a fan of the Redskins, I can empathize with their fans.  If some group was pushing for the Bills to change their name, based on the unethical treatment of animals, I'd be pretty-well torqued.

Sure, we don't compare animals with people, at least in the mascot business.

Also, you can't compare Redskins with some of the other "people-based" nicknames.  Celtics, Vikings and Fighting Irish don't carry the baggage that the term "Redskins" does.  Sorry, my friends from Redskin Nation.

Which leads me to my last point:  How do Native Americans feel about the ongoing presence of the nickname?

MSNBC is certainly within its rights to do what it wants.  But, is it doing so in consultation or at the behest of Native Americans?

I seriously doubt it.

Weird things have been known to happen when it comes to tinkering with franchise nicknames..

Some of you may recall that Washington's National Basketball Association entry used to be called the Bullets.

That name was changed because that moniker was seen as being too menacing:  a trait, by the way, rarely attributed to the team now known as the Wizards

The Redskins' issue merits serious discussion.  It does not need childish hijinks like those of MSNBC.