An open letter to the Washington, DC council about “Redskins”

redskinslogo2The Washington, DC city council is discussing the name “Redskins” and may consider demanding the Washington Redskins change their name. There have already been comments that the council wants the team to come back inside the district limits but will not allow the organization to build there unless the name is changed.

I sent this letter to each member of the DC council:

I have been a Redskins fan since 1967. I am not a Washington football team fan – I am a Redskins fan and proud of the rich history. The second part of the name means more to many people than the first part. I hope you realize that the majority of Redskins fans do not live in the District of Columbia. If you want the owner to cease using the “Washington” part of the name, I urge you vote on that.

I am part Cherokee. No one in my family is offended by the term Redskins and many of us are and were Redskins fans. My uncle who proudly fought for our country in WWII was a Redskins fan until the day he died. Several years ago I visited with the then chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and he told me that not only was he not offended by Redskins (or any other Indian-related team names) but that he himself was a Redskins fan. Plus, he appreciated them using the name because it brought attention to his people and helped employ his people, some of whom made various paraphernalia for Redskins fans. So, you can’t paint a broad brush by saying it’s offensive to Native Americans. Someone is always going to be offended by something. You have a right to be offended but you don’t have a right to never be offended.

Most Native Americans and most Americans understand that “Redskins” is not derogatory. Studies show this and any real knowledge of the history substantiates that. In 1933, the team was renamed the Boston Redskins in honor of the head coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz, an American Indian. He was honored by it and appreciated it. When the team moved to Washington in 1937 it was renamed the Washington Redskins. Clearly the name was not considered disparaging.

The term redskin of course goes much farther back than 1933. The details of this history were explored by Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution. You can read the study here – The term redskin is a translation from native American languages of a term used by native Americans for themselves. The claim that it “had its origins in the practice of presenting bloody red skins and scalps as proof of Indian kill for bounty payments” is unsupported by any evidence.

The term entered popular usage through the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. In the early- to mid-nineteenth century the term was neutral, not pejorative, and indeed was often used in contexts in which whites spoke of Indians in positive terms. Goddard says, “Cooper’s use of redskin as a Native American in-group term was entirely authentic, reflecting both the accurate perception of the Indian self-image and the evolving respect among whites for the Indians’ distinct cultural perspective, whatever its prospects. The descent of this word into obloquy is a phenomenon of more recent times.”

So, the Redskins team, which has done much for the community and for NFL football, has a rich, proud history. Make no mistake, it is the Redskins’ rich history, not the Washington football team’s rich history. The name is the name. And the name was never meant to be negative term and has not and is not taken as a negative term by most Native Americans and most all Americans. In fact, Native Americans helped design the helmet.

Please take no action against the Redskins name. It makes a bad precedence to fold to a small minority of a minority. If this sort of thing is successful, one day a small group of people will change something that you cherish based on false assumptions and political correctness to satisfy those who believe we have a right to never be offended.

Remember, we have a right to be offended but we don’t a have a right to expect to never be offended. Someone will always be offended. Thank you for your time and service.