Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Few Things You Didn’t Know About the Washington Redskins Nickname

The surprising history behind a most controversial moniker.


You know who’s probably the happiest guy in the NFL right now? Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

After all, the big stinks surrounding Adrian Peterson’s possible child abusin’ and Ray Rice’s confirmed fiancee beatin’ have masked the odor of what presumably WOULD have been the big political brouhaha of the new pro football season -- the ongoing debate over the Redskins nickname.

Several overrated websites that nobody read anyway have deemed the team name so offensive that they flat out refuse to reference the D.C. squad by its official title. In league with them are two announcers with Super Bowl hardware -- former Colts coach Tony Dungy and ex-Giants QB Phil Simms -- who have said they won’t call the Redskins the “Redskins” while doing play-by-play.

Indeed, the anti-Redskins-nickname bandwagon has become quite the trendy progressive jihad of late. Of course, that also brings up the question of why said individuals are just now revolting against the moniker, seeing as how the team has been called the Redskins since before World War II.

Ever the curious sort, I spent the summer compiling information on both the history of the Redskins organization and the term “redskin” itself. Much to the chagrin of paleface detractors such as ESPN’s Peter King and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, the term may not exactly be the hyper-offensive pejorative they keep telling us it is -- in terms of both historical usage and actual Native American sentiments.

Etymologically, the origin of the term “redskin” is not only unlikely to be derogatory, but unlikely to have a racial root whatsoever. Quite possibly the earliest use of the term “redskin,” interestingly enough, stems from a term one Native American tribe bestowed upon another.

The Micmac tribe of Canada were known to refer to members of the Beothuk tribe as “macquajeet,” which roughly translates into “red people.” Even more peculiar, the Micmac didn’t call the Beothuk “macquajeet” because of their skin tone -- they called them that because the tribe had a tendency to smear mud, rich with deep red ocher, all over the bodies as an insect repellent.

According to historian Ives Godard, the term “redskin” really didn’t come into vogue as any kind of racial term until the 18th century. Even so, it was essentially a neutral word, with many native American tribes using the word as a self-identifier; lest we forget Sitting Bull’s immortal declaration, “I am a red man.”

It really wasn’t until nearly the early 20th century that the term “redskin” showed up as a definite pejorative -- and in of all places, the inarguably racist rants of  “The Wizard of Oz” author Frank Baum.

The team nickname “Redskins” almost certainly was derived from the almost-certainly-fake Indian heritage of former Boston Redskins coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who recruited several players from the Haskell Indian School to play pro ball for him. For those not in the loop, the team began life as the Boston Braves in 1932; owner George Preston Marshall authorized the name change to the Redskins a year later, with the team relocating to Washington, D.C. in 1937.

As for the team’s current logo? It was designed by a Native American from Montana in 1971. Don Wetzel, the son of former National Congress of Native Americans President Walter Wetzel, commended the mascot, stating “it represents the Red Nation and it’s something to be proud of.”

Apparently, a vast majority of actual Native Americans agree: a 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey found that nine out of ten US Indians did not find the team nickname to be offensive.

Nor, it seems, do the students and faculty at Washington’s Wellpinit High School, Oklahoma’s Kingston High School or Arizona’s Red Mesa High School, each of whom use the nickname “Redskins” for their football teams. By the way, Native Americans make up a majority of the student body at each school, with Navajo Indian students making up nearly 100 percent of the Red Mesa population.

While there are definitely Native Americans out there miffed about the nickname, they’re not the ones leading the mass media revolt. (I originally typed “spearheading” instead of “leading,” but changed it just to be on the safe side.)

I don’t know if you’ve made the same observations that I have, but it seems like every single face on TV or the Internet decrying the Redskins nickname is astonishingly Caucasian.

Personally, I’ve always considered such forceful displays of  white paternalism to be profoundly patronizing, and in many ways, pretty darned racist, to boot. A large throng of the anti-Redskins bandwagon are whiny, P.C. dingbats (of course, the type who have lived enchanted lives of their own, never once having faced adversity of any real kind) who are co-opting another ethnic group for use in their own political battles.

The most zealous pro Redskins-name-changers, oddly enough, seem to be people who downright HATE both Dan Snyder and the National Football League for even existing.

They DESPISE the fact that Dan Snyder is a multibillionaire college dropout who made more money as an entrepreneur working out of his parents’ bedroom than they’ll ever envision.

They DESPISE the fact that the National Football League is a $9 billion a year mega-industry, but much more than that, they hate the fact that it’s a sport they perceive to be the domain of oppressive white males --  this, despite 40 percent of the NFL fan base being women and the National Basketball League having a higher percentage of white viewers than the NFL.

How funny it is that the pro-name change armada is crusading against the Washington Redskins for social justice and equality, yet doing precious little to help ACTUAL Native Americans who live in the poorest parts of the country and have the highest rates of diabetes, suicide or alcoholism of any ethnic group in the US.

With all of the riffraff going on over the nickname, you probably haven’t heard about something called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. It’s a nonprofit recently started by Dan Snyder that’s actually INVESTING money in Native American communities -- meaning the Redskins themselves have probably done more good for the nation’s Indians than any of those lily-white belly-achers who've been moaning and groaning about the moniker lately.

Ultimately, the Redskins nickname controversy has virtually little do with cultural appropriation or representation -- unless you’re talking about the substantially white P.C. Wehrmacht, who have taken it upon themselves to misrepresent an entire racial group as a front for their own political jockeying.

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