Why the name “Washington Redskins” needs to go

By – Sean Haley

Why the name “Washington Redskins” needs to go.

First of all, let me preface this by saying that this isn’t an ‘attack’ of any kind. I’m a Chicago Bears fan, and my dislike of the Redskins is totally irrelevant. Although there have been, over the years, Redskins players that I’ve liked; Darrell Green, Art Monk, RGIII, and a few others (emphasis on *few*), my general disdain for the Redskins is WELL known…at least to my friends and those who know my sports allegiances. However, as I stated, this isn’t about me trying to bring down the franchise in the interest of what I like. But if they quietly went away, I’d shed no tears. Forgive me, folks, I’m still upset about the ’88 NFC playoffs. All jokes aside, it is my sincere belief that the name “Redskins” needs to go.

Now before you get all huffy and start complaining about “The PC Police” and declaring your hatred of all the “bleeding hearts, that aren’t even fans of the game”, I’ll stop you right there, and explain to you how wrong you are. This isn’t about me trying to make the world a better place. It isn’t about me jumping on some type of politically correct bandwagon. To be honest, the extent of my involvement is probably this essay. For the most part, in the grand scheme of things, this issue hardly occupies any space on my “list of things that are important to me”. So why am I even bringing this up? Plain and simple: it’s wrong. The name must go.

How’s THIS for irony? I’m a PROUD alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You know, the Fighting Illini? Yep. We too have a Native American ‘mascot’. As a student there in the (ahem) late 80’s up until the early 90’s, I witnessed firsthand the “Ban The Chief” firestorm. As a young man, I didn’t really see how the use of a Native American mascot is offensive to some people. As long as Jeff George was throwing TD’s, it didn’t even cross my mind. BUT one day it all changed. There was a display that a Native American group had put together at the Illini Union (the main gathering place for U of I students). The display consisted of sports logos (of both NCAA and Professional teams) and wall banners, pins, stickers, and the like. At first glance, it could’ve been a display at a sports bar. It was just that innocuous. But then I took a closer look at the text on the display. At the bottom, there was a line of text for anybody who actually looked a little closer: “Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, New Jersey Jews, New York Niggers…how would YOU feel?” It was at THAT moment that I finally *got* it. Now, I fully admit that I’ve never really been a protest type of person. So picking up a protest banner, and marching hand in hand wasn’t really an option for me. BUT as a Black Man I saw how Chief Illiniwek was probably offensive to a LOT of people. Some of my fellow students began crossing out The Chief on their sweatshirts, caps, and other U of I paraphernalia, but I always thought that it was kind of silly to do that ( I mean, you’ve already bought it, so you haven’t solved the problem, you just ruined your clothes…). So I just started buying ‘chief-free’ merchandise (stuff with just “Illinois” or the big giant “I” on it). No protest necessary, and I could still rep my school in good conscience. A part of me felt horrible watching the Chief perform at halftime shows. As many times as I’d seen it, it never felt offensive to me, but seeing that display made me understand that a race of people had been reduced to mascots.

A lot of people felt that banning the chief was an attempt on the university’s behalf to rule us students and fans with an iron fist. How DARE they stomp on this rich tradition, right? The Chief was as much a part of university tradition as freshman orientation or Greek Letter organizations, right? They couldn’t get away with this, right? Wrong. This is a race of people were talking about, not ‘Dollar Rum & Coke Night’. No ‘tradition’ should be upheld at the risk of humiliating and offending other people. As you’d expect, most of the students of color felt that Chief Illiniwek had to go. Those who disagreed (and yes, students of all races still supported The Chief) were on the other side of the argument. They’d argue that it wasn’t offensive; that it was a ‘tribute’ to the Illini Indians. You’d see “Save the Chief” and “Ban the Chief” t-shirts on campus, at games, and in classrooms, living in somewhat perfect harmony. Some would call it ‘agreeing to disagree’. At the end of it all, we ALL still loved and supported our school.

Eventually, in 2007 The university removed the image of Chief Illiniwek from all of our teams’ uniforms, and over a period of time they also did away with the Halftime dance, and switched to the Orange “I” as our official school logo. You know what happened after that? The school stayed open, we still had football and basketball games, and nobody fell dead from grief. As a university family, we all lived through it.

So back to my original point; the same thing can (and should) happen to the Washington Redskins and their fan base. You’ll live through it. What’s wrong with a big “R” on their helmets? If memory serves me correctly, it was once their logo anyway. If you have to keep a ‘red’ in there, change it to ‘Red Streak’ or ‘Red Wave’ or whatever. Bottom line, you can make the change and still keep your identity as fans. Look at the bright side; you’ll have an excuse to spend money on a brand new sweatshirt and hat.

  1. I see you frowning. Right now, you’re calling me a self-righteous jerk (amongst other things). You’re hitting me with the same stuff I’ve been hearing every time this topic comes up:

“It’s not offensive to ME!!!”

“These people have NO interest in the game itself, they just want to cause trouble.”

“It’s JUST a game…people are WAY too sensitive these days.”

“Aren’t there other things we should be concerned with, like (insert irrelevant topics, like the economy, wars, terrorism, world hunger, etc)?”

“What about mascots like The Fighting Irish? Nobody calls THAT racist! People should just get over it!”

“So what happens next? Are animals gonna be offended because of teams like ‘Bears’, ‘Panthers’, ‘Jaguars’ and ‘Wildcats’?”

To this, I say: GROW UP. The whole “it’s-not-offensive-to-ME” thing? It shows your stupidity. If ONE person is truly offended, then it needs to be rethought. Also, we live in a world where people ARE sensitive; to the thoughts and feelings of other people who may or may not be offended. Wars and famine and all that other horrific stuff is definitely a concern to us as a society, but it has nothing to do with this conversation. Finally, I had this same discussion with a Notre Dame fan who tried to explain to me how the Fighting Irish mascot was okay, and that people weren’t offended by it. He said that some people enjoyed it, and to some degree it was amusing that people have embraced the stereotype (and let’s face it, that’s what it is) and so on and so forth. But I had to ask him what if *one* Irish person was offended. I tried to tell him it didn’t matter that people liked it. If somebody was offended, it’s something to think about. The animal thing? THAT argument is so silly it isn’t even worth my time.

Hopefully, I’ve made a decent case. As I stated earlier, this isn’t about me trying to piss off the Washington fan base. This isn’t about me trying to be holier than thou. Lord knows, I’m just as politically incorrect as the next fellow at times. But I do feel that the name “Washington Redskins” has to go. There will be handwringing, lawsuits and all other sorts of angry protests on both sides. Will we see it go away anytime soon? Probably not. However, the fact that we’re all having a dialogue about this means that the NEXT sports franchise will think twice before using a Native American as a team mascot.

-SH

Thanks Rantsports for the photo

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About: Sean Haley

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Native Chicagoan, born and raised. I represent all things Chicago ( Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Fire, Fighting Illini). I speak my mind, but I keep it humorous. Sometimes I'm right, other times you're wrong. I like everything you hate, and vice versa. I might sound like a jerk, but I'm a really nice guy. We can discuss it, though.

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