What’s In A Name? Nothing That Has To Do With The Redskins’ Karma

| March 11, 2013 | 8 Comments

I think the Redskins should change the name of their football team.

 

If you saw that and didn’t immediately close the window, thank you for sticking with me. Allow me to explain. I truly believe that you don’t root for the name of a football team; you root for the team. You root for the colors, the players, the coaches. The name is all well and great. We probably have the best fight song in the NFL because of the name.

 

But ultimately? A name change won’t change the football team. We all know what this football team has done. Changing the name won’t change the fact that we have 28 members in the Hall of Fame. It won’t change the 23 playoff appearances, the 13 division titles, 5 conference championships and 5 world championships (pre-and-post NFL-AFL merger). It doesn’t take 50 gut away. It doesn’t take away 70 Chip and The Diesel’s run. It doesn’t take away Doug Williams being the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, it doesn’t stop the 1991 Washington Redskins being, arguably, one of the greatest teams of all time.

 

It doesn’t take away the power and mystique of the Hogs. It doesn’t take away the incredible standing ovation at the Hall of Fame for Art Monk after an induction long overdue. It doesn’t take away Clinton Portis’ first run as a Redskin, or how awesome Sean Taylor was. It doesn’t take away Santana Moss’ catches to get us in the playoffs, it doesn’t take away Cooley’s three touchdowns in a butt-whooping versus the Cowboys. It doesn’t take away the legacy of Joe Gibbs. Changing the name doesn’t take away the legacies and innovative play of “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgenson. It doesn’t take away a 7-win game streak to get into the playoffs.

 

Just because the name “Redskins” wouldn’t be on the uniform, doesn’t mean that they aren’t still the Redskins. That the memories and the moments that make this team special, and this fan base special, and the men who donned the burgundy and gold on the field and on the sidelines special mean nothing. Because it’s not the name we cheer for.

 

It’s the moments we cheer for. It’s the players. Ultimately, changing the name can’t take that away for us. We would still be the Redskins. Just like we’re still the Boston Braves. Our legacy, good and bad, doesn’t change.

 

If the name really does hurt people, if it does humiliate and alienate a group of Native Americans, no matter how small or how large…then the name should be changed. That’s just how I feel. You don’t have to agree with that, and I’m sure there’s a group of people who will stop reading here and head down to the comment section and tell me that I’ve just take a just crap over everything I listed above. Oh well.

 

But in addition to not wanting to offend an entire group and culture…I just want to be done with this debate. The name is going to change. It’s not a matter of “if”; it’s one of “when”. The name is going to change, whether Dan Snyder and the NFL want it to or not. I wish they’d just change the name, just so people like Mike Wise would have one less thing to complain about.

 

I can say one thing about Mike Wise; he had one question for Roger Goodell during the Super Bowl, and he used it to pimp the same tired cause he’s always “championed”. He knew Goodell was going to give a stock answer about not finding it necessary to change the name. But he used the perfect platform, with everyone watching, to ask about the name change.

 

Mike Wise sort of fancies himself the champion of the ultimate good cause. Back in December, coming off the joke that was Rob Parker insinuating that Robert Griffin III might be a cornball brother because he has a white fiancee and might be a Republican, Mike Wise took advantage of Parker’s racism to ask Robert Griffin III what he thought about playing for a team named the Redskins, “because a lot of American Indians and others think that’s a derogatory term?”

 

In response, Robert Griffin III (who could have completely gotten away with taking a cue from another Washington sports superstar with his answer) gave a fairly stock answer about he wasn’t qualified to answer that question.

 

Wise took that simple answer to a stupid, trollish question (that he later apologized for privately) and tried to make a larger point about the Redskins rookie signal caller; that Griffin was the only person who could force the Redskins to change the name. But Griffin wouldn’t, because for all intents and purposes, Griffin was a coward.

 

That was the gist of the article. That Griffin, a then 22-year-old kid only a few months into his professional football career, who wasn’t alive when the name was conceived —hell, his father wasn’t alive when the name changed to “Redskins”— should not only take up the cause of fighting against his own organization to change the name of team, but that he wouldn’t, because Griffin didn’t want to offend people, or lose endorsements, or lower his “Q” rating.

 

“I’d wanted to go further,” Wise says in his article about why RG3 won’t force Dan Snyder to change the name. “I’d wanted to ask Griffin if he would be okay with playing for a team called the “Washington Blackskins” featuring a proud portrait of a Zulu warrior on its helmets.

“My guess is he would say no. Not because he’s black — Griffin has said that he doesn’t want to be put in ‘a box with other African American quarterbacks.’ I just figure that, as a good, decent inhabitant of the planet, he would respect the groundswell of offended people who don’t want to cheer for a team that enshrines America’s persecution of its indigenous people.”

 

Of course, if Wise really wanted to ask that question, he could’ve asked, in the same public forum. Redskins public relations would’ve probably had him removed, or he could’ve caused the press conference to end early and he could’ve pissed off his fellow beat writers, but what would Wise care? Perhaps he’d get his answer.

 

Because after all, when Wise is done saying that Griffin should force Dan Snyder’s hand to change the name but he won’t because because he’s a coward, he hits us with this nugget;

 

But what about the real-life courage of Ali, Brown, Ashe and Flood? They didn’t care about the consequences. They just knew it was right.

 

Who cares about the consequences of asking about the name when they know it’s right? If Wise so cares for the plight of Native Americans, then why apologize to Griffin? Why not just ask such brave and bold questions? They need to be answered, don’t they?

 

Of course, Wise (initially) didn’t take it as far as the Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy did. It was Milloy who insinuated that Robert Griffin III’s knee injury wasn’t due to bad turf, or a bad decision by Mike Shanahan, or a stubborn young QB who didn’t know better that was to blame. What was to blame?

 

Karma.

 

“In this obscene home team sports fantasy, the gifted Robert Griffin III was reduced to a “noble savage.” Let the “Redskin” play hurt. He can take it. Hail to the young brave-hearted quarterback as he limps into battle on that injured knee. Three cheers as he fights on his one good leg for Old D.C,” Milloy writes. “Bad karma, I tell you, that team name.”

 

Now, let’s just set aside for a second that Milloy’s opening paragraph, in which rips the Redskins for having a racist name, is pretty damn racist itself, no matter how clever Milloy figured he was being. Let’s ignore that fact.

 

It is karma that Robert Griffin III hurt his knee. As in, God, or some cosmic force, punished Robert Griffin III with a torn ACL and MCL, because he disagreed with the name.

 

As someone who believes in God, I found that statement despicable. Even if you don’t believe in God, the fact that Milloy would insinuate that a 22-year-old man would lay prone on the football field because some divine entity punished Dan Snyder through Griffin III should offend your very sense of human decency.

 

Just about everyone condemned Milloy’s column. The Washington Post’s own Dan Steinberg called it one of the most tone deaf things ever written about the team.

 

But Steinberg was the one of the few Post writers who stood up and condemned it.

 

In fact, even after the negative reaction to Milloy’s column, it didn’t not stop Wise from, in the most ironic of ways, insinuating that not only was Robert Griffin III’s injury karma…but that the Redskins were under an Indian curse.

 

“Until this organization does right by Harjo and her people, I wouldn’t be surprised if bad karma follows.” Wise writes, linking to the same article that was so insane that USA Today had to cover how insane it was.

 

And then, without a hint of irony, through sheer ignorance, Wise defies the wishes of Susan Shown Harjo; the same woman who Wise writes “doesn’t need this” as it relates to going back to court to trying and force the Redskins to change their name.

 

“Please don’t call this the Harjo Curse,” she begged Wise after Thursday’s hearing. “Oh, don’t do that to me.”

 

“No? Okay. I like this better anyway,” Wise writes. “The Curse of the Code Talker’s Daughter.”

 

Not only does Mike Wise proudly link to the same column that got Courtland Milloy slammed about “karma” haunting the Redskins. He also insinuates that an Indian Curse has been following the team since 1992, when Harjo first took the Redskins to court over the name. And he says that, even though Harjo asked him not to.

 

You can’t make this stuff up.

 

And this stuff, this dreck, this crap that’s dressed up as informative journalism, does nothing — absolutely nothing — to convince Redskins fans to change the name.

 

Remember, I’m for changing the name. But things like the articles by Courtland Milloy, or Mike Wise, or Sally Jenkins, or any of the several Washington Post columnist who have all seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to write about, in one insulting way or another, why the Redskins should change the name, nearly make me forget that.

 

So-called journalism like this isn’t meant to inform; it’s meant to enrage. It’s meant to incite a reaction, it’s meant to generate clicks, it’s mean to light up comment pages. It’s meant to get passed around the blogosphere and message boards. It’s meant to piss you off.

 

And it worked on me. It worked on me enough that I felt I had to write this humble blog post about it. I wish it hadn’t. I already started an article about this once, but abandoned it because I felt like I was feeding the beast, fueling a discussion that’s 90% media creation and 10% created by Native Americans.

 

And don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt there are Native Americans who are deeply offended by the name. One of my favorite moments in television was watching hip-hop icon and mogul Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey debate the merits of the n-word. Jay-Z argued that African-American people took the name back and turned it into a word of empowerment; Oprah argued that giving the history of the word and what it means, trying to turn it into anything empowering was nearly impossible.

 

Neither one was right or wrong. They were two people of two generations, having a simple discussion about the weight of a word, without yelling, without screaming. They didn’t change each other’s minds, but maybe they understood each other a little bit.

 

This is how I think most Native Americans must feel about the name Redskins. Some are generally unaffected  Some love the team and even look at it as a badge of honor. Others look back at the history of the word “Redskin” and can never and will never accept that the word is wrong, that it’s hurtful to their people, a painful reminder of their past. Neither side is really wrong, and they each would likely have equal points for and points against the name.

 

The columns of Mike Wise, and others like him, do not feel like they have the opinions of Native Americans in mind. They feel like troll-bait; incendiary,  poorly researched pieces that firmly plant themselves on one side of an issue and refuse to budge, talking down at anyone and anything that challenges that point of view. Taking the moral high ground, and then, without even realizing it, slandering and marginalizing the very people they are supposed to be defending.

 

The majority of Redskins fans would never want to offend anyone. Quite frankly, sometimes team loyalty blinds people, and they defend the name in ways that also don’t do themselves any service. I do think fans mean well though, and aren’t so much defending the name, as they are defending the concept that anyone who doesn’t want the name changed is horrible, not moral, stupid, racist, prejudiced, and “just doesn’t get it”.

 

The Washington Redskins themselves had one of the more tone deaf reactions to the assault about the name, which was essentially pointing out that lots of other teams have the name too. (Which is the rough equivalent of your white friend dropping the n-word into casual conversation at a dinner party because he has lots of black friends and they say it and they let him say it all the time.)

 

But this is all reaction. Reaction to what doesn’t feel like a good faith effort on the part of Mike Wise and his collaborators at the Post to present the Native Americans viewpoint, but instead, feels like an exploitative effort to bad mouth the Redskins, in an offseason that is a-typically devoid of any drama that could help them sell paper or generating ad revenue.

 

To that end, I say this; you’re doing Native Americans a disservice. There are a lot of good reasons to change the name, and the more sensible fans could certainly get behind those reasons, and perhaps gently pressure the Redskins to change their name. After all, like I said, you don’t root for the name, you root for the team.

 

But in order to rile up a fan-base and stir a reaction, not to mention attack an organization who has been none to kind to you in the past, you have taken a good, honest cause, and warped it to fit a narrative. A narrative that Dan Snyder is a greedy owner, a narrative that Robert Griffin III could fix it if only he had the balls to do so, a narrative that “the most diehard football fans have only two ways of dealing with these kinds of disagreements: racist Internet comments — and fistfights in the stands.”

 

Mike Wise says if were Dan Snyder, he would be wise change the Redskins name now, before political minority groups organized boycotts and sponsors started to get antsy. (Mark Maske actually did a very good, well-researched piece of actual journalism detailing why the Redskins might run into a couple snags if they chose to change the name on their own.)

 

If we’re going to make silly rhetorical crud, I’d say, if I were Mike Wise and Courtland Milloy, I’d write a formal apology to Robert Griffin III for insinuating that his knee injury was due to karma, as though some divine source of power hurt him. I’d also apologize to the Native Americans who’s stories I exploited to attack the Redskins. Otherwise, maybe me and my fellow Redskins fans will boycott the Washington Post, and not buy your paper, or take the Express when we get on the Metro, or click on links to any of your articles.

 

Ahh, who am I kidding. I’m just one guy on a blog. I can’t organize a boycott that big. Nice thought though. Oh well. I could never expect those who have a greater reach than I do to admit they’re wrong, and perhaps apologize and be a little understanding of people who think differently than they do?

 

I mean, that’d take courage. If only more people had it.

 

 

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8 comments
westpope10
westpope10

 I was searching for more information on the heightened attention to the Redskins name debate.  I came to this post through Google and its one of the most well-reasoned things I've ever read.  In the past I've thought ""who cares''. the people complaining have as little to do with their ancestors complaints/ grievances as I do with mine.  But I feel different now because I feel like this article laid out the stakes.  What does the name really matter?  If people are offended, whether agree or not, then that is reason enough to change.  The team is the team and what we call them is superfluous.  I should think it might even be profitable to sell all new supporter's apparel and such.  One way or another great writing by the author.

Khun Kao
Khun Kao

This is one of the few well-thought articles I've ever read on the subject. It would not surprise me if the teams name were to eventually change, and I would accept that (though not willingly). I think that one key point that needs to be continually made is that various studies have shown that *overwhelming* majority Native Americans are not offended by the teams name. Depending on the which study you cite (I don't have links available, but they're easy enough to find via basic internet searches), 75-90% of Native Americans are NOT offended by the term "Redskins" or its use as a team mascot. If/When the number of Native Americans who find the term "Redskins" offensive approaches/reaches 40%, then I believe it will be time for serious debate within the Redskins organization regarding changing the name. I feel that its very presumptuous of a non-Native American (such as, but not limited to, Mike Wise) to dictate to the masses how Native Americans *should* feel about a label that *he* feels is racist.

Mike
Mike

I don't mind them changing the name, I am a big time Redskins fan but i do get why SOME people might not like it. I would just hope they pick a good alternative name, I don't want to be the pelicans or anything. But the only thing I don't understand is why is everyone picking on the Redskins?? What about the Cleveland Indians who's logo seems very racist to me, or the state of Oklahoma which literally means "red people". It just seems like our team is singled out and hated on by everyone, even with this salary cap penalty.

D.C.DieHard
D.C.DieHard

Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! Washington Redskins!!! I Just wrote that 9 times, and I bet not a single person got hurt, cried or died as a result. Let's talk about $36 million dollars stolen from our Washington Redskins for 0 reason. That's offensive, corrupt, and clearly done out of jealousy and hatred by our direct competitors that we're getting good and will soon be great. $36 million dollars, and not a damn thing in writing to support it. Just John Mara and Jeff Lurie likely shelling out under the table cash and our cap money to our competitors to weaken the beasts we are becoming. Hell, maybe even that Indian lady that keeps whining about our team name offered up some of that Indian Casino Money to help the cause. Sorry Dallas, Philadelphia, and New York, but you've only made our inevitable destined dominance look that much more awesome as it happens. It's going to suck even more now for them when we own them despite their illegal and unethical attempt to stifle our looming NFC East dominance. Woooooooo!!! Who's with me??

Allaine
Allaine

The Zulu warriors were fearsome! Ain't no way we are ashamed of that.

D.C.DieHard
D.C.DieHard

I hear you, but I simply think that anyone offended by an 80 year old NFL franchise team name is amazingly petty and has too much time on their hands. There are MANY far more important causes to support. I'm sorry man. I just think changing the name would be giving all those ignorant Washington Redskins haters what they want, and they don't deserve it. The Skins don't, and have not, anything to hurt anyone. American Indians included. This whole debate is dumb and childish. I'm fine with different opinions, but I'd definitely be pissed if it happens any other way than by force. Good luck forcing that as long as Dan and Bruce are alive.

Ivey West
Ivey West

A WONDERFUL piece. I'm of the opinion that the Redskins will eventually be forced (via pressure, not mandate) to change the name. But you've done a great job exposing Wise for the myriad douchey things he has done in this particular argument.

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