Redskins Hall of Famers Say Team Name is Probably Offensive, But Shouldn’t Change

Many Native Americans have called for the team to change their name out of respect for their culture and history

Image: Keith Allison

This week, two Washington Redskins hall of famers added their voices to the chorus arguing that the team should change their name. Sort of.

Darrel Green and Art Monk both appeared on the local radio station WTOP, and were asked what they thought of current Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s assertion that he would never change the name. Monk said, “ Native Americans feel like Redskins or the Chiefs or name is offensive to them, then who are we to say to them ‘No, it’s not’?” He also said that the name change should be “seriously considered.” Green agreed, saying “It deserves and warrants conversation because somebody is saying, ‘Hey, this offends me.’”

The Washington Redskins have been fielding questions about their name, which refers to the way colonial Americans described Native Americans, for a long time now. As Wikipedia points out, “slang identifiers for ethnic groups based upon physical characteristics, including skin color, are almost universally slurs, or derogatory, emphasizing the difference between the speaker and the target.” And many Native Americans have called for the team to change their name out of respect for their culture and history.

But now Green, at least, has backed off from saying that the team should change the name. He told another radio station later: “In no way I want to see the Redskins change their name. So that just makes that clear. And I’ll speak for Art, there’s no way he wants it, and I guarantee he didn’t say it, and I know I didn’t say it.”

Greg Howard at Deadspin summarizes Green’s argument:

He just thinks we should talk about it, and then decide not to. … Snyder won’t, though, because he’s rich and powerful and racist. And sadly, some of the only ones capable of challenging him, who can make a difference, are his players. But when they, like Green, scamper in line with the racist owner of the league’s most historically racist franchise, it gives off the impression that a racial slur as a team name is OK, acceptable, a source of pride, even when we all know it’s not.

In May, ten members of Congress sent letters to every NFL team asking them to push for a change of name. Snyder’s response was “the Redskins will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell contested the claim that the name was offensive, saying that instead it was “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Actual Native Americans disagree. Amanda Blackhorse, of the Navajo Nation, writes in the Huffington Post:

I find the casual use of the term r*dsk*ns disparaging, racist, and hateful. The use of the name and symbols used by the Washington football team perpetuate stereotypes of Native American people and it disgusts me to know that the Washington NFL team uses a racial slur for its name. If you were to refer to a Native American, would you call him or her a “redskin?” Of course not, just as you would not refer to an African-American as the n-word, or refer to Jew as a “kike” or a Mexican as a “wet-back” or an Asian-American as a “gook,” unless you’re a racist.

She points out that it doesn’t really matter that the Washington Redskins find the name acceptable and honorable, if those who they are referring to do not. Blackhorse and four other Native Americans have filed a petition with the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) arguing that the Redskins name violates the section of trademark law that says that trademarks that “disparage” people or bring them into “contempt or disrepute” isn’t eligible for registration.

It remains to be seen whether the addition and then retraction of Green and Monk changes the tone of the debate. Snyder is unwilling to bend, and the team’s lawyers fought Blackhorse’s petition.

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