Washington Redskins' name controversy: Result of feud between Dan Snyder and the Washington Post

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For the past couple of years, a lot of attention has been given to the Washington Redskins and whether or not the name ‘Redskins’ is racist. Before I get into the real issue behind this situation, I want to make it clear that in no way do I feel any organization or professional sports team should be allowed to use or incorporate names or images that denigrate any race. However, in reality, we as Americans know there are always exceptions to the rule.

The Washington Redskins have been in existence for more than eighty years. In the early years of the franchise, from the 1930’s till the 1960’s, Edward Preston Marshall, the founder and owner was a stout supporter of segregation, and made it known that African-Americans would never play for his franchise. Although African-Americans were making their athletic exploits hard to overlook, Marshall continued to ignore the changing landscape of professional sports; meanwhile the likes of Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) were shattering barriers and myths about people of color and their ability to achieve excellence. However, Marshall was not the only person who had similar beliefs. Even with racial equality making strides in the 1960’s, many whites who owned businesses refused to accept the patronage of blacks. Marshall, who was being pressured by the Federal Government and the Washington Post—who also play a significant role in this current controversy— to allow blacks to play on the Redskins, ultimately relented and drafted an African American football player in the 1962 NFL draft (Ernie Davis), whom Marshall would then trade the rights to the Cleveland Browns for another African American player, Bobby Mitchell.

Since the signing of Mitchell, the Redskins have had many African-American players who have made their mark in the National Football League; from RBs Larry Brown and Brian Mitchell, to WRs Charley Taylor, Roy Jefferson, Art Monk, Gary Clark, Rickey Sanders, and defensive stars Ken Houston, Charles Mann, and Darrell Green. And most notably, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was a player for the Redskins in 1988, when Doug Williams set a then Super Bowl-record by throwing five touchdown passes en route to a 42-10 victory.

During the Redskins’ glory years of the 1980s – early 1990s, Native American activists were voicing their displeasure with the use of the name ‘Redskins’, but without much notice or attention, especially from the Washington Post. Why? Because the family that owned the Post at the time—the Graham family—had a very cozy relationship with then owner Jack Kent Cooke. The Grahams (Phillip and Katherine Graham, along with their son Donald) enjoyed watching Redskins games from Cooke’s luxury box at RFK Stadium. For the purpose of ‘journalistic integrity’, there was mention of this issue in the Post, but there was no demand by anyone associated with the publication for the Redskins to change their name.

When Cooke passed away in 1997, his son John Kent Cooke tried to retain family ownership of the Redskins, but was outbid by a young, successful marketing entrepreneur, Daniel Snyder.

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  • Fred

    I am sure that there is some truth in this view of the issue as far as the Washington Post’s reporting is concerned, but emphasizing that ignores the more important facts. As noted, the protests began with Native Americans, not the media. The Nation Congress of American Indians (NCAI) first issued a statement opposing native mascots in 1968, so during the majority of the team’s existence there was reason to think of the name as racist. This hardly makes any difference since it is absurd to talk about “grandfathering” an offense. Racism it is, because both in the social sciences and the law there is recognition of racism beyond the narrow definition of overt acts of hatred. The small offenses of being stereotyped and caricatured are also racist. Try calling a black man “boy” or a woman “girl” as was common as recently as the 1960s. Then why would it be ok to call a Native American anything that hints at disrespect? And it is not just the Redsk*ns, whose very name is a slur, it is also Chief Wahoo’s toothy grin, and the Braves tomahawk chop. It is the feathers, whoops, drumming, and dancing that inevitably result when a team uses Indian references. This is “honoring” a people almost wiped out by genocide? No one believe this, and in the real world beyond DC native mascots are in steady decline. This week the Lamar High School team in Houston (a hotbed of PC liberalism?) became the Texans. Snyder will be the last to change, upholding the tradition of the team started by its founder.

  • Marc Rutledge

    Fred, first and foremost, I thank you for taking the time to read my article. In response to your comments, If you thoroughly read and understood the angle with which I wrote this, you’d clearly understand that I truly understand the struggle and plight of Native American Indians. Again, I think you need to UNDERSTAND THAT FANS OF THE REDSKINS ARE NOT IN ANY WAY ATTEMPTING TO DISRESPECT THE CULTURE OF NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS. Second, any offense–big or small– is indeed worthy of merit and consideration. What you seem to not understand is the CONTEXT in which the name is being used. As a Native American Indian, I would almost be willing to bet every dime I’ve made in my lifetime that you’ve never been called a ‘Redskin’. In today’s society, there are more ‘colorful’ terms to used to describe other races that make up the cultural diaspora that is the United States of America. ‘Whitey’, ‘Jap’, ‘Wetback’, or ‘N*gger’ are examples I’m referring to. Also, the only time when someone thinks of the term ‘Redskin’ is in reference to a sports team, so that gives you an idea in what kind of context this term is viewed in today’s society. Furthermore, as I mentioned in this article, if Native American Indians had a choice between getting back the land that was stolen from them by those that came to settle here from Europe, or have a football team change its name, they would take getting their land back by a considerably wide margin. But you seem to overlook that. Or perhaps you already know that the chances of that happening are slim to none, and with this being planted so deep in the collective subconscious of Native American Indians, the only thing that’s worth ‘fighting’ for is getting a professional sports franchise to change its name. In this world there will always be good and bad, negative, and positive. The more we consume ourselves with what’s bad or negative, is what shapes our lives, experiences, and destiny. In closing, I respect your points of view, as I hope you respect mine.

  • fredisstupid

    hey fred, what about calling a black guy a negro? cant really do that today, either, right? but the united negro college fund doesnt think its bad , particulalry for all the good it does in the community. your argument is weak and stupid.