This academic analysis suggests that the team name of the NFL’s Washington, D.C., franchise is both reprehensible and indefensible.
King (Comparative Ethnic Studies/Washington State Univ.; Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy, 2001, etc.) asserts that “Redskins” is “very much a living slur” and “widely regarded as an epithet.” So why does the culture at large tolerate a team name that insults American Indians when it would never accept such an insult directed at African-Americans, Jews, or other races or ethnicities? One possibility, according to one scholar, is that “since actual Indians are a virtually invisible minority for most Americans, stereotypical images of Native Americans have long been widespread in American popular culture.” Though King focuses on one team—one that happens to be located in the nation’s capital and one of whose previous owners was an outspoken bigot—he extends the critique to any team that exploits such stereotypes and has such demeaning mascots. The author acknowledges and refutes the usual smoke screens: that the term wasn’t considered offensive when it originated, that it has long-standing tradition and sentimental value, that it actually glorifies the Indian warrior, that many Native American fans have no problem with it. Most rationalizations are perpetuated by ignorance as much as insensitivity: “They know how the symbols make them feel,” he writes of football fans who embrace the name and tradition. “They know how they want Native Americans to feel; they know how Native Americans should feel. Rarely, however, do they know how Native Americans do feel.” King details how the name began when the team was based in Boston, as were baseball’s Braves, at a time when there was often a relationship between the names of the city’s sports teams, how the branding and stereotyping became more elaborate after the move to Washington, and how the tide of media and public sentiment “may soon reach a tipping point” to mandate a change.
In the meantime, King shows why this controversy matters well beyond the football field.