Aug 19, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers (30) is shown with the NFL heads up logo on his helmet before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Redskins Name Change Could Signify the Beginning of the End of Native Culture in American Sports

The Washington Redskins have become the most controversial topic in the NFL over the past couple seasons, really since the Players Union threatened the 2011/2012 season with the lockout, Bountygate and the Sean Payton suspension of 2012. Not because of anything they’re doing in particular, but because apparently their name is offensive.

Yeah, it’s up there as a top controversy, but should it be?

*Editor’s note: This column does not necessarily depict the views of the staff of 12thManRising.com nor the views of FanSided. This is my personal opinion and depiction of a very controversial topic in today’s NFL. It is not intended in any way to belittle the opinions of anyone with an alternate opinion or the Native American people, so don’t go there. Thoughts, feedback and varying opinions are welcome in the comments section and please be adults about the topic, as this is a touchy subject for some. Thank you!

“Redskin” is a word that is, to some, a derogatory and demeaning term aimed towards the Native American people.

To me, the term is a complete and total non-issue. Look, I get it, break the name down and you get something that describes the color of the skin and is occasionally used in a derogatory way. Some have actually put it in the same context as the N-word and others say it’s not ok to use any term or even imagery that would be associated with the Native American people to depict an American sports team mascot. I say it’s baloney.

 I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word. They say they’re trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn’t dignify us. It doesn’t honor us. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.

This is quite a slippery slope for the original folks that inhabited these lands to slide on. On one hand, natives are incredibly adamant about preserving their culture with paintings, political art displays and other things that would depict their people in a light that is very specific and holds much historical significance. On the other hand, some of them are offended by what it means when American sports teams use those same depictions to represent their leagues? It’s a clear double standard and a difficult thing to skate around if you’re not part of their closed circle.

I have Cherokee in my background folks, and while I’m not a full member of my tribal roots and in fact consider myself black, I definitely embrace the value of my native ancestry. Let me ask you this, are you offended by the term “White” when people use it? How about “Black”, “Melano” or “Mulatto”?…. “Asian”?

To somebody, those are all at least partially derogatory terms that don’t properly intend their ancestry. But to the majority of the rest of us, the terms that take the place of these descriptors are not any better and in a lot of instances can actually be worse. For example this incredible article by CounterPunch puts the term “African-American” into a dark light as a derogatory term. I do agree with the majority of the points in the article, I always have.

In terms of key components that make up the name, “Native American” holds an inherently different value, but the idea behind it is the same. It is simply to find a word or set of words that describes a nation of people and offends the least amount of them possible. We call that being politically correct. The problem is, just like “Redskins” it’s always going to offend somebody by nature regardless. That doesn’t necessarily make the term bad or wrong and the NFL and Washington organization are well within their right to defend the name of their team, even though it may not be able to be trademarked anymore.

International Business Times wrote this intriguing article “Tribal Leaders Applaud Ruling, Say It’s Never OK To Use Native American Imagery In Sports on the subject and there were some interesting quotes in it, but this one stood out to me.

“We wouldn’t agree to any kind of personification of Native American people as a mascot for any sport,” Oren Lyons, a Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy and a member of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs in New York, told IBTimes. “You just can’t put people in the same category as animals.”

“Personification” is a very difficult term to assess when considering the people that are offended by such things. Basically, anything that depicts an American Indian is a “personification” of the entire race. Here’s what dictiornary.com has as a definition for the word:

per·son·i·fi·ca·tion

  [per-son-uh-fi-key-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

the attribution of human nature or character to animals, inanimate objects, or abstractnotions, especially as a rhetorical figure.

2.

the representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person, as in art.

3.

the person or thing embodying a quality or the like; an embodiment or incarnation: He is the personification of tact.

4.

an imaginary person or creature conceived or figured to represent a thing or abstraction.

5.

the act of attributing human qualities to an animal, objector abstraction; the act of personifyingThe author’s personification of the farm animals made for an enchanting children’s book.

Again, I don’t want to speak for all of 12th Man Rising, but to me personally, it’s an absurd argument. Many tribes are in fact offended when you call them “Native American” instead of the specific tribe they derive from. They see it as a gross generalization. Just like the term “Redskin” however, The intended positive value of the name and symbol on a football helmet is more important than the few people that don’t understand it.

I’d like to reiterate that point, the intended positive value of what “Redskins” is supposed to stand for is more important than those that don’t recognize it. The NFL is not about “disparaging” the Native American people, you can be sure. They’re all about shedding a positive light on the peoples of old America, those that have always been part of this great nation. The term has always been known as a positive term when discussing the topic of football, which is a good thing. Why would you rather we get rid of one of the most positive and influential ideas surrounding the term in the world?

There are 52 high schools in 22 states that use the name “Redskins” and most of the kids there wear it as a badge of honor to represent the people, whether they derive from that background or not. To them, they have a chance to be an ambassador for not only their school, but the people the name represents. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. This article by Washington.cbslocal.com puts it into perspective quite nicely, discussing whether or not Native Americans themselves consider it a slur.

There are Native American schools that call their teams Redskins. The term is used affectionately by some natives, similar to the way the N-word is used by some African-Americans. In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term offensive, although many question the cultural credentials of the respondents.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote an absolutely amazing article last September, stating many thoughts as to why the name change isn’t as easy as it sounds (a must read if you haven’t already) and may in fact be impossible to mandate for the very reasons I just mentioned. He makes several points that just make sense, including the fact that there are majority-native school systems that have an army of kids that have worn the name with pride and honor for a century, not ever once having questioned the value of their name because honestly, it just wasn’t an issue.

The ruling by the US Patent Office, explained perfectly in Politico, has some valid points that should be taken into consideration. But you also have to be understanding of the fact that whenever you see Redskin used before the modern day, it wasn’t a derogatory term that resembled the N-word, not in the least. It isn’t even a term that resembles the use of “coloreds” or “blackies” back in the early to mid 1900′s. It more resembled (resembles) the classic “Negro”, which specifically means and is a direct and respectful form of the word “black”.

The SeattleTimes banned the use of the word on their site earlier today, sparking a wave of media responses on the topic. It’s a stance that many are taking and have been taking for a couple years now. They feel they are taking a stand against racism.

We’re banning the name for one reason: It’s offensive. Far from honoring Native Americans, the term colors an entire race. Many Native Americans consider it an outdated label placed on their people.

Randy Lewis, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes who is a board member for United Indians, didn’t pull any punches when asked what he thought.

“I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word,” he said. “They say they’re trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn’t dignify us. It doesn’t honor us. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”

Lewis, who is in his 60s, acknowledges that some Native Americans, particularly from his generation, accept and even embrace the name.

“But our younger people find it offensive, and they’re the ones who are inheriting this world,” he said. “If they find it offensive, damn right, take it out.”

Ok, that’s fine, but it should be pointed out that while the N-word was specifically created to be a term that intentionally highlighted the inferiority of the black race, Redskin was simply created by a people that had no idea what else to call the people of the tribes that were here in America, just as those same people called them “white man”. It’s not a racist term in my opinion, not even partially.

It’s not about the name specifically and intentionally honoring the people it represents, it’s about the people it represents honoring themselves and/or the rest of America using that logo as a badge of honor to represent the people that first lived in America. For decades, the Washington Redskins players have seen the organization as one of the classiest in the NFL.

There’s something to be said about the fact that the word “Redskins” is associated with class and dignity, as well as representing the Native American people. This isn’t about equality or slavery, or even about tribal rights and patents, it’s about a few being overly sensitive and not understanding the big picture while the media blows it out of proportion.

Point blank, if the NFL team is forced to change their name based on a false political agenda, the rest of America will eventually cease to be able to use anything resembling Native American imagery. That means the Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks and any other team who’s name even slightly derived from a native story or tribal background is doomed to have to remove anything resembling the culture.

Arrowheads, feathers, tribal tatoos, all of it will eventually be unnecessarily banned because a few people had nothing better to do than be upset that their chief wasn’t the depiction on the helmet of an NFL team. It will happen regardless of how people feel about the mascots at this very moment.

In many ways, the mascot of the Washington D.C. football team is the glue to our remembering Native culture. It’s only fitting that the team that resides in our nation’s capital would depict the race of people that were originally here in America. Take that out and eventually politics will dictate that all Native icons and symbols be removed from American culture. This will threaten all of our recognition of natives in general.

That’s why Native Americans of all races should hope that the Washington Redskins are not forced to change their name.

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