There's long been arguments about the political correctness of the Washington Redskins' nickname -- some feel that it is a pejorative term, and many Native Americans find it offensive. The "Redskins" nickname was given to the team in 1933 by then-owner George Preston Marshall, supposedly in recognition of head coach Lone Star Dietz, who may have been part Sioux. That Marshall was a known and avowed racist who greatly opposed the integration of the NFL doesn't do a lot for the argument that the team's nickname is an innocent conceit.
The Kansas City Star has long refused to use the "Redskins" nickname in its football coverage, and now, a newspaper closer to the team has followed suit. The Washington City Paper has decided to use the term "Pigskins" instead of "Redskins" when writing about the home team. The Washington City Paper is an alternative weekly with a circulation estimated in 2009 at 71,000. The new name was decided by a poll of the paper's readers.
From the City Paper's City Desk:
Over the last week, 1,125 of you voted on which of five names we should go with, and Pigskins—a.k.a. Hogs, in a tribute to the team's great offensive line of the first Joe Gibbs era—stiff-armed the competition like John Riggins did to Don McNeal in Super Bowl XVII. The name won 50 percent of the vote. Washington Monuments came in a distant second, with 16 percent; Washington Bammas got 13 percent, Washington Half-Smokes, 11 percent, and Washington Washingtons 10 percent. There were a few late entries that we liked, such as the Washington RG3skins—inspired by the quarterback's touchdown run last Sunday—and the Washington Americans.
I like the Washington Half-Smokes, but that's just me. Here's what I want to know: How long will it take for various animal rights activists to muster up a cauldron of outrage over a new nickname that isn't exactly vegan? You can go right down your own drain with this PC stuff, though there's more merit to the objections in this case, if you know about the man who named the team.
"I remain unconvinced by every argument I've ever heard that the name is not a racial epithet, plain and simple," Derek Donovan, the Star's public editor, wrote in a recent column. "And I'll even break my usual rule about commenting on issues outside The Star's journalism to say that I find it inconceivable that the NFL still allows such a patently offensive name and mascot to represent the league in 2012."
Mike Madden of the City Paper agreed.
Yes, we realize opinion is split among Native Americans over the issue. But we have a hard time imagining a world where a modern pro sports team called itself, say, the Washington Kikes (to choose an example that picks on my own heritage), even if some Jewish fans didn't mind. Still, the solution the Star has found seems less than perfect—they drop the nickname altogether and just refer to the team as "Washington." Sports teams have names; we just wish this team had a different one. Besides, referring to "Washington" winning or losing might leave readers wondering which Washington team we mean—the Nationals? The Wizards? The Caps? And sadly, there are quite a few District residents who root for a different team altogether.
Again, it's important to know the context, and what was in the hearts of the people who named the team when they did so. Marshall had to be told by John F. Kennedy to hire black players for his team before he would actually do so. In the end, the president had to threaten Marshall with eviction from D.C. Stadium (later RFK Stadium) before the old coot would bend.
I'm usually as opposed to knee-jerk PC stuff as anyone, but I don't think that's the case here. In this case, the term "Redskins" also speaks to the vile practice of segregation in sports, because it was attributed to the team by one of the bigger blockheads the NFL has ever seen.
So, perhaps it is time for the Redskins to do what a few conscientious editors have already done. Change the name. Not because it's expedient, and not because of political pressure, but because any team that asks for the trust of the public should hold up a better and more promising legacy.
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