Iman Naima Smith
Language. It is the way in which we communicate. It is international. It is constantly evolving. But language, in all of its wondrous omnipotence contains a sinister side—the “offensive.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “redskin” refers to that of “an American Indian.” It adds that the word is indeed dated, as well as offensive.
Daniel Snyder, the owner of The Washington Redskins, defends his team’s name with firm assurance, even in the midst of Native American protests far and wide. In May of this year, Snyder made it clear to USA Today that the team’s name is here to stay.
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple,” Snyder declared. “Never—you can use caps.”
One of the most prominent protests to emerge, have been under the direction of the Oneida Indian Nation. NPR reports that the organization has launched a radio ad campaign with the goal of changing Washington’s team name.
This is just the beginning. Select news sites such as Slate, an online magazine, have decided to refer to the team as “the Washington NFL team” as opposed to “the Redskins,” according to NPR.
Right behind Slate, were The New Republic and Mother Jones, while other news outlets such as The Associated Press and The New York Times continue to utilize the name.
Even Wilson High School in D.C. has been in discussion of whether or not to prohibit Redskins clothing from being worn on school grounds, according to ABC 7 News.
So what is the origin of this 80-year-old team title? Ives Goddard, a Smithsonian historian, explained to NPR that the term “Redskin” first arouse in 1769 in negotiations between the Piankashaws and Col. John Wilkins.
It was in 1823 when the term became more popular amongst Caucasians, where it is mentioned in a book titled, “The Pioneers.” The author, James Fenimore Cooper states, in relation to a dying Native American character, “There will soon be no red-skin in the country,” according to NPR.
Although similar literature to that of “The Pioneers” depicted a sympathetic outlook toward Native Americans, 1890 marked the term’s transition into its derogatory connotation. According to NPR, author L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” celebrated in his December piece that same year, the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee.
His pieces focused on “the extermination of all remaining Native Americans,” using the term “redskin” in a derogatory nature, according to NPR. This publication was only the commencement.
Poet Earl Emmons released a book titled, “Redskin Rimes” in 1915, its material filled with heavy racism and offensive language, according to NPR. Emmons does not sympathize with the Native American protagonist within his works, calling him the “maroon brother.”
Continued into the 1920s, the term was promoted in popular culture, with the releasing of the hit 1929 film, “Redskin.” The film is based around the trials and tribulations of a Navajo Indian, who must constantly deal with harassment due to his race, according to NPR.
After the term had hit the big screen, it was now time for its birth into the world of sports’ team paraphernalia. According to NPR, in 1933, Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall decided to change the franchise’s name from the Braves to today’s Redskins.
According to team lore, William “Lone Star” Dietz, a former coach of the team, spurred the inspiration for the name, where he identified himself as a Native American. Dietz’s Native American heritage is still debatable to this day, where the parents that raised him were white, according to Indian Country Today.
Dietz’s father was German, with the identity of his birth mother unknown, spurring obfuscation and controversy concerning his true ancestry.
This brings us to the Redskins we know and hail today, its team name containing racial history but has been supported by devout fans for decades. In the midst of all the fans, there is Rember Compres, a University of Maryland freshman international affairs major.
Compres feels that if he had a say in the matter, the name should go.
“If it’s derogatory to a people, change the name,” Compres said. “Times change, as do norms. Things that at one time were fine then, simply are not now.”
Christine Nwosu, a senior family science major and Skins fan, feels quite the opposite.
“It has been a part of D.C. for years. There’s tradition there. It’s not like they came up with the name yesterday,” Nwosu said.
Ravens fan Jenny Skrenta, a sophomore public health major, agrees. “I feel like Daniel Snyder has the right to make the decision,” Skrenta said.
“Fans have connected with their team and changing their name would have a huge impact on their fans.”
Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist, voiced her opinion on the name in a telephoned interview with NPR.
“It’s a toy of racism, and the people who are holding on [to the name] for dear life, they know that,” Harjo said.