In what has been a wild week of racist rants, calls for boycotts, protests and extreme cases of finger-wagging, pointing fingers and calling people out for their personal beliefs, the Washington Redskins appear to be next on the list. With the help of Senator Harry Reid, the Redskins name is again the topic in political forums and once again the debate is heating up.
Taking full advantage of the opportunity surrounding the week of events that have followed Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling for a name change of the Washington Redskins. Reid has called out Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, urging him to “do what is morally right.” In the past, President Obama has even tossed in some comments, saying that if he was the owner of the franchise, that he would consider changing the name as well.
The debate has been going on for years, and depending on who speaks first, and who speaks last, the debate seems to go through peaks and valleys where both parties bring up valid points. At times it is like being tossed into a hurricane of political correctness, where everything that is tossed into the public arena can be deemed “offensive.” It does not go without saying that the term “redskins,” does not carry with it some negative connotations, because it does. But then the question must become, where does the term come from in the first place? Knowing these kinds of things could make a huge difference.
According to Ives Goddard, a Smithsonian historian, the term “redskin” was used by Native American tribes as a way to differentiate between two separate races. They themselves used the term during early negotiations with the French and American’s, and it wasn’t until much later that the term was used in describing Native American’s with negative connotations. While some point to the negatives, others point to the warrior mentality that comes to mind. A lot of it can depend on how the word is used, and like anything else, if the term is used in a vicious attack toward someone, it most definitely is offensive and it makes complete sense why the Washington Redskin’s name may be in trouble, once again.
The other side of the story is being pushed by those like Senator Harry Reid who is piggy-backing off the past week of controversy. He sees the term as nothing more than hate speech and a term that is highly offensive to Native American tribes. Obviously, he is not the only one that feels this way, as members of the National Congress of American Indians, which consists of hundreds of tribes throughout the country have spoken out, calling for the name to be changed. The tribes have spoken, unfortunately for them, it is still a small sample that is rising up and calling for the ban, which makes it difficult for them to ever gain solid traction. It is a debate they are willing to have and as long as the banners, t-shirts and uniforms have the name “Redskins” across the front of their jerseys, the debate will certainly continue.
Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid is taking advantage of a tired and frustrated public, choosing this moment to again bring this topic to the forefront. The problem with banning owners, calling out players and fans, and anyone that is associated with any group or corporation is that there will never be any end in sight. The hope to live in a perfect and harmonious society sounds like heaven on earth, but in reality it is an impossible notion. Despite the hope from many people to move forward and live in peace while singing campfire songs together, it is a fantasy, and nothing else. There will always be hatred and stereotypes, along with groups of people who for no other reason besides naivety cannot get along. If everything can be twisted and construed as being hateful, the nation and world we live in is in trouble.
When a football stadium is filled with more than 70,000 people, many who wear headdresses and paint their faces like warriors, it does not conjure up images of hatred, it appears to show pride. Sure, it is possible to twist things around, and find bad in just about anything, but in this case it may be better for the opposition to take a step back, look at the fans who scream and cheer for the Washington Redskins, and see the pride that fills their eyes. There may be a few bad apples, but for the most part most of the people out at the football stadium on a Sunday afternoon are not mocking or putting down a culture, race or a group of individuals. They are cheering for their team, with great pride and nothing else. If the Redskins name is in trouble again, society might as well toss in the towel and call everything offensive. For now, maybe it is time to strip the negative connotation and try to see the term as endearing, and something that can be seen as positive, as opposed to the overwhelming negativity that is gripping this amazing nation.
Commentary by Johnny Caito