Friday, January 4, 2008

redskins and racism

this fall, the debate over offensive team nicknames flared up again at the minnversity. nobody objects to our golden gophers nickname -- at least nobody outside the close-knit rodent urophiliac community. nevertheless, many question whether our gophs should continue to take the ice against the fighting sioux of north dakota.

in contrast to the ongoing campus debates at illinois, florida state, north dakota, and elsewhere, i've heard absolutely no outrage, zero indignation, and nary a protest as the washington redskins prepare for the playoffs this weekend.* isn't redskins the most racist and offensive team name in sport? we're not talking about a borderline moniker like warriors or even chiefs. redskins is a degrading ethnic slur, pure and simple, stubbornly attached to the home football team in Our Nation's Capitol.

i'm an old-school sports traditionalist, so my first official act as nfl commissioner would be to return the nicknames of the colts and the cards back to the good citizens of baltimore and st. louis, respectively. my second official act, however, would involve harsh economic sanctions on the redskins until they changed the name -- to 'skins, to reds, or to my personal favorite, the washington wonks.

i've got nothing against the washington football team. as a chubby li'l pee-wee fullback, my hero was the the great riggo. like john riggins, i was a north-south runner (mostly south in my case, now that i think about it). while i could always forgive mr. riggins' ungentlemanly remarks, the redskins nickname just bugs me more and more each year.

i simply can't see a good argument for keeping such an ugly nickname. tradition? well, the washington team was originally called the braves. the boston braves, in fact. moreover, at least part of the storied redskins tradition is a well-documented history of racism. the team's management so resisted african american players that shirley povich was inspired to report, "Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown “integrated the Redskins’ goal line with more than deliberate speed.” in truth, it was not until 1962 that the redskins were integrated, and only then when facing direct threats from the kennedy administration.

though my childhood hero once led the 'skins to glory, i'll be rooting for seattle's seahawks in tomorrow's game. i'll return to washington fandom, however, once the redskin moniker departs -- whether by lawsuit or by a new owner who shares my vision.

*i did come across a couple older op-eds: see
michael tomasky in american prospect and salim muwakkil in alternet.

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