Quotes of the day

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday he was “proud” of President Obama for saying over the weekend he would “think about changing” the name of the Washington Redskins.

Carney noted he was a longtime Redskins fan and a native-born Washingtonian.

“I was proud of my president on this issue,” the press secretary said.

He also said that he did not believe Obama had called Redskins owner Dan Snyder to discuss the name.


The NFL declined to comment about Obama’s statement. But the president’s comments were applauded by the Oneida Indian Nation, which is hosting a protest event in Washington on Monday at a hotel where NFL owners are scheduled to convene for their fall meeting.

“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments today are historic,” Ray Halbritter, a representative for the group, said in a statement. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”…

According to a June poll conducted by the Washington Post, 66 percent of adults in the D.C. area do not support a name change.

Nonetheless, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt is working to persuade broadcasters to stop using the Redskins name as several prominent sports journalists, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, have already done.


Roger Goodell avoided direct replies to a question Tuesday about whether “Redskins” is a racial slur and if Washington’s team should change its name.

“Whenever you have a situation like this, you have to listen and recognize that some other people may have different perspectives and clearly there are cases where that’s true here,” the NFL commissioner said at a news conference at a Washington hotel. “And that’s what I’ve suggested and I’ve been open about — that we need to listen, carefully listen, and make sure we’re doing what’s right.”

Speaking at the conclusion of the league’s fall meetings, Goodell noted that he grew up in the Washington area rooting for the Redskins and “by no means … have I ever considered it derogatory as a fan, and I think that’s how Redskins fans would look at it.”…

“I am confident that the Redskins are listening and I’m confident that they’re sensitive to their fans — to the views of people that are not only their fans but are not their fans,” Goodell said.


To see whether it’s right to use “Redskins” as a mascot, NFL owners gathering in Georgetown on Tuesday for their fall meeting should substitute some other common racial epithets and see how they would sound: The Washington Wetbacks? The Houston Hymies? The Chicago Chinks? Or perhaps the New York Niggers? That would be enough to send anybody to the shotgun formation.

“This word is an insult. It’s mean, it’s rude, it’s impolite,” Kevin Gover, who is Native American and director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, said Monday at a news conference on the eve of the NFL meeting. “We’ve noticed that other racial insults are out of bounds. . . . We wonder why it is that the word that is directed at us, that refers to us, is not similarly off-limits.”…

The best argument was made not by a Native American but by an African American, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton. “My great-grandfather was a runaway slave,” she said. “I went to segregated schools, just like many Native Americans. . . . I don’t see how anyone who has gone through our historic experience can fail to identify with Native Americans who are raising this issue. Need I remind them of the terms that have been attached to us in history and how the moment we hear one of those terms, you’ve got an uprising?”


There are Native American schools that call their teams Redskins. The term is used affectionately by some natives, similar to the way the N-word is used by some African-Americans. In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term offensive, although many question the cultural credentials of the respondents…

“We just don’t think that (name) is an issue,” Yazzie said. “There are more important things like busing our kids to school, the water settlement, the land quality, the air that surrounds us. Those are issues we can take sides on.”

“Society, they think it’s more derogatory because of the recent discussions,” Yazzie said. “In its pure form, a lot of Native American men, you go into the sweat lodge with what you’ve got — your skin. I don’t see it as derogatory.”

Neither does Eunice Davidson, a Dakota Sioux who lives on the Spirit Lake reservation in North Dakota. “It more or less shows that they approve of our history,” she said.


In my small survey, the most distinct indicator of how someone would feel was how much experience they’d had with the non-Native American world. Those who’d gone off-reservation for college, or lived in off-reservation towns like Rapid City, generally wanted the name changed. Those who’d spent most of their lives on the reservation, and dealt with non-Natives on a much more sporadic basis, seemed more likely to shrug it off.

Why is this so? Maybe because people who’ve lived in the white world have first-person experience seeing their culture mocked by outsiders

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Rick Reilly interviewed teachers and administrators from a handful of reservation and majority-Native American high schools that use the Redskins name. He found that at those schools, the nickname can actually be a matter of pride. But where Reilly errs is in comparing the Washington, D.C., Redskins to largely Native schools — and to Notre Dame, whose teams of course go by the nickname “Fighting Irish.” It’s unclear exactly where the term “Fighting Irish” originated, but most stories have it as an insult directed at Notre Dame players, who then took it on as a mark of pride, turning the insult into a hard-won honorific, just as any number of ethnic, religious and sexual-orientation minorities have taken on derogatory terms in the same way. (People around Pine Ridge do the same thing with insults all the time, wearing Redskins and Cleveland Indians “Chief Wahoo” baseball caps with a mixture of irony and pride.) There’s the key difference between Notre Dame and the Washington Redskins: Notre Dame is a Catholic, largely Irish institution. “Fighting Irish” is their term to use. Ask your average Irish-Catholic South Bend alum how he’d feel if Oxford University, pride of the British Empire, announced that its new mascot was a pugilistic leprechaun cartoon. If he’s a real Fighting Irishman, he might, as Reddy would say, “fuck you up.”…

“I talked to some friends about it,” [one Native American woman] said, “and one of them is a nurse who’s trying to bring [public health] programs into the schools. The other is trying to get a business off the ground. We all felt pretty much the same: that the name is offensive … but that there are other things to worry about. The tribal housing [department] finally fixed the furnace at my house the other day, and for the first time in my life, we actually have good, working heat in the house. The other night me and my mom were saying, ‘Oh, I get the oil heater in my room tonight,’ ‘Oh, I get the Amish heater,’ and my little brother said, ‘Why are you two arguing about space heaters? The heat works now!’ There are more important things to worry about than something like that Redskins name that we can’t change anyway.”


In the consciousness of the nation’s capital, the Redskins exist somewhere between a beloved sports team and the object of a quasi-religious veneration. The team has a rich tradition, including a 70-year-old fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” performed by a marching band — “Braves on the Warpath! / Fight for old D.C.!” Its burgundy-and-gold uniforms and its logo are iconic, and the team’s long rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys has always made its nickname seem perfectly apt.

Surely, the franchise didn’t settle on its nickname as a way to slight Native Americans. No one picks a team name as a means of disparagement. San Francisco didn’t choose the name “49ers” because it wanted to mock the foolish desperation of people panning for gold in the mid-19th century. Dallas didn’t pick the name “Cowboys” to highlight the gunslinging violence of life on the American frontier. Team nicknames and logos invariably denote fierceness and strength, which in the context of the NFL are very good things.

Yes, the name “Redskins” is an anachronism, but it is a harmless one. It isn’t meant as a statement of how people should refer to Native Americans, nor would any rational person take it as such. A team nickname is a highly stylized symbol utterly removed from reality. Are we supposed to believe that the team’s cheerleaders are popularly known as the Redskinettes because that’s what people think Native Americans called their women?


[N]o longer can I justify my years of indifference to the sports moniker. The name must change. Let’s toss it in the trash heap along with other now offensive — but once widely used — monikers such as Sambo, darky, dago and kike…

Predictably, many Redskins fans are livid that the president would jump into this fight. They are hypocrites. They’re not the only people who can have an opinion about this matter…

The football team’s glorious history may indeed stretch back 80 wonderful years, but what intelligent person, or even a diehard football fan like me, could seriously argue that 80 years of entertaining football history could ever compare to the thousands of years that the original Americans have inhabited this land?

It’s time to get on the right side of American history.


The Redskins name will change sooner than you think — two or three years, tops. The franchise and the NFL have to realize they’ve lost control of the story and aren’t getting it back. That opportunity has long passed…

But neither Snyder nor the NFL will be strong-armed into changing the name. There are too many egos involved for that. Snyder isn’t going to let Mike Wise run his franchise and the NFL won’t want to change league policy because of public pressure. So, for now, they’ll both weather the storm. Then, when the uproar has quieted down, the team will make a surprise announcement about a name change…

Right now, the debate is mostly toothless. It’s being played out in newspapers and televisions with little interest from fans or sponsors. But if the Redskins make the Super Bowl in the next few years, the story will becomes worldwide news. It will be two weeks of talk about the name rather than a celebration of football. Or what happens if one sponsor comes out against the name? Others may quickly get in line. Once money is involved, a change may have to be made. The key for the Redskins and the NFL will be to act before they have no other choice.


It’s not a matter of “if” anymore, but rather “when.”

The debate over whether a people are denigrated or honored by the name of the Washington NFL team, like the absurd debate over whether the name is a unifying force, is over…

The NFL, through Adolphus Birch, its senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs, has asked that a meeting originally scheduled for Nov. 22 be moved up — and, if needed, to the Oneida reservation in Verona, N.Y.

Think about that: The NFL, which has spent tens of thousands of dollars defending the team from American Indian plantiffs seeking to strip its trademark in court for the better part of two decades, has offered to go to the res to talk…

Brace yourselves for change. Five years tops, it’s gone. And it’s about time.


So to sum it up:

There have been no mass protests outside of FedEx field, the home of the Redskins demanding a name change.

Eight in ten Americans don’t want the name changed.

Most fans in the DC-area don’t want the name changed.

Native Americans are mostly apathetic on the issue.

But…a growing number of white sports writers are certainly passionate about it…

The name ain’t going to be changed as long as the owner is still breathing.

Good for him.



“History is littered with people who have vowed never to change something – slavery, immigration, women’s rights,” said Halbritter. “One thing that’s really great about this country is when many people speak out, change can happen.”


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