It’s way past time for Washington to retire its racist team name.
If you read articles about the NFL here on Sports are from Venus, you might have noticed that we refuse to refer to the Washington team by its name. Even when it would be much more convenient or poetic.
It’s a conscious choice that we’ve never really doubted. The name is hateful. It’s a slur. This sometimes leads to some awkward phrasing or redundancy, but it’s a choice we make every day to avoid using language that we find to be unacceptable. We refuse to be cavalier and boost the profile of a name that is just as offensive now as it was when it was created. Despite years of lobbying and pleas from the National Congress of American Indians beginning in the 1940’s, no Washington owner has ever even considered retiring the hateful name, up to and including current majority owner Daniel Snyder, who famously just replied “Never” when asked about making a change.
The history of indigenous peoples in this country itself has been a centuries-long horror story of decimation, marginalization and silencing. So much so that their voices have been all but extinguished from the national conversation. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives now encompass a mere 1.3% of the American population, according to the U.S. Census in 2019. With indigenous populations this low, it becomes easy to understand how attempts to bring any sort of equality to these communities are repeatedly stifled by a vast and insensitive majority. From encroachment on sacred sites and water sources like we saw with the Keystone and Dakota pipelines to the legal revocation of tribal land trusts as we are currently witnessing with the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts, the American experiment has come at the expense (among other things) of these once thriving communities.
As the nation comes to grips with its history of systemic racism…again…we should take the moment to reset one of the worst names in all of sports. Is it a large thing to change the name of a sports team when much more serious human rights violations are occurring against indigenous people daily? No, but casual racism festers in our communities unless we take steps to show that no racism is ever truly without consequence.
Harmful language like Washington’s chosen name can no longer be shielded by the banner of heritage, history, or whatever other benign-sounding euphemism you choose to cloak your hatred and insensitivity in. It’s time to do away with the name, and don’t even get me started on the other sports teams that use cartoonish Native American imagery to sell t-shirts and schwag. And, yeah, we can also do away with the tomahawk chop chant and wearing headdresses to stadiums. These things are not an homage to Native American culture. They are ill-spirited stereotypes anchored in a time when European settlers considered it their birthright to wipe out an entire continent’s worth of people and culture.
Seriously, people. Let’s get it together.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.
Image Source: AP Images