I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the debate over the nickname of Washington’s National Football League franchise. I grew up as a New York Giants fan, and playing cowboys and redskins went right along with playing eagles. I never knew why the Washington team was called the Redskins, although it did occur to me that it was kind of an odd choice. The Giants came from the country’s largest city, the eagle is our national symbol which makes sense for the city of our founding, and naturally cowboys and Dallas go together.
Anyway, the Redskins started out as the Boston Braves. They shared a field with a pre-existing baseball team of the same name. After a while, it got confusing in the same way that it was once difficult to distinguish between baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals and football’s St. Louis Cardinals. On top of that, the owner of the Boston Braves football team decided to begin playing their games at Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox.
So, since redskins and braves are both references to Native Americans and because Red Sox and Redskins kind of go together, the name change was made. I doubt a whole lot of thought went into it. If the Red Sox had been named the Walruses, the Redskins probably would have become the Warriors.
So, I think we can eliminate original sin from our understanding of the nickname. At the time, there were Native American players on the team including, purportedly, their coach. The coach may have been lying about that, but I still don’t think it’s completely wrong to say that the nickname was in some sense about honoring Native Americans, not deliberately disrespecting them. What is clear is that the owner of the team at the time was explicit that the name was not changed to honor the coach, which is something the modern day owner and even the NFL Commissioner have been saying in defense of the nickname.
What’s also clear is that they should just change the name. Times change. People find the name offensive. They don’t care why the name was chosen. It’s nice that it wasn’t intentionally offensive, but it doesn’t matter anymore. It isn’t worth fighting to preserve the name.
Feed the Political AnimalDonate
Washington Monthly depends on donations from readers like you.