According to Forbes (2013), when the Washington Redskins took the field on September 9, 2013 for their season opener, the franchise was worth $1.7 billion, making it the 3rd most valuable team in the National Football League. With a worth that substantial, one might be inclined to think that the franchise is doing everything right. However, the Washington Redskins are currently entangled in a venomous scandal regarding their name, mascot, and logo. Many in the media are calling for the crucifixion of Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder, and the immediate changing of the name, mascot, and logo. Media outlets in America are covering this in a way that artificially plays up a controversy, and blatantly accuses mainstream Americans as racists. The things that the media fails to bring up are Synder’s property rights, as well as the polls and other data that display the true sentiments of the country, and the history (although disputed) of the term “redskin.” I would argue that the media is purposely being untrue in their reports, and not representing the true sentiments of both America, and the Native American population. To begin with, the history of the term needs to be examined.
Those who are for the name change claim the term is offensive. Many use the argument that you would not name a team “The Jews” or “The Negroes” (Sigelman 1998, p. 318). After all, those words always conjure up the horrible feelings of racism. Horrible tragedies like slavery and the Holocaust. But what those against the name do not mention is that the history of the word “redskin.” The term was first used by Native Americans themselves, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the name had racist connotations when it was first implemented in 1933. George Preston Marshall was awarded an expansion team in Boston in 1932, and changed the name to Redskins, as an homage and tribute to William “Lonestar” Dietz, who was an American Souix (Hylton 2010, p. 889). Marshall went on to hire several Native American players, made the logo more prominent, had an Indian chief mascot, and used an Indian “war band” (Hylton 2010, p. 889). This was all done to strengthen the relationship towards Native Americans, not to denigrate and offend them, as the media would have one believe. Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King will no longer use the name in his writing. He echoes the sentiments of many media outlets, claiming the name is distasteful, and offensive to many. However, those closest to the team, the owners, would disagree with Mr. King. Former owner Jack Kent Cooke said, “I admire the Redskins name. I think it stands for bravery, courage, and a stalwart spirit and I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to use it.” Now the question begs to be asked, does America agree with Peter King or Jack Kent Cooke?
The numbers would say that Americans agree with Jack Kent Cooke, by a large margin. In 2004, the National Annenberg Election Survey asked 768 people who identified themselves as Indian if the name “Washington Redskins” bothered them. Almost 90 percent said that the name did not bother them (CBS Washington 2013). Nine years later, in 2013, an Associated Press/GFK poll released showed that 79 percent of Americans believe the name is fine, and does not need to be changed (Nuckols 2013). With numbers that are overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the name, one may begin to wonder why there is any controversy at all. The media is perpetuating a non-existent controversy. The data is against them, the history is against them, and yet they continue to promote a non-issue. A good example of this is the way President Obama’s words were twisted. During an interview with the Washington Post, the President said, “If I were the owner of the team, and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” These comments seem pretty middle of the road for a progressively liberal president. All in all, he makes no declaration that the name would definitely be changed, and he certainly does not chastise Daniel Snyder. However, the media reported the comments in a much different, and in a very possibly incorrect, light. Politico’s headline read: “Obama to Redskins: Get A New Name.” The Christian Science Monitor’s displayed: “Obama Backs Redskins Name Change.” The Wall Street Journal proclaimed: “Obama Scolds Redskins.” These headlines certainly appear to be sensationalized, and seem to be advocacy journalism, instead of true reporting. More often than not, this makes journalists lose some credibility, as they openly proclaim their position on a matter. On the flipside, there are columnists like Gregg Easterbrook (NFL.com) who routinely poke fun at the astonishing claims of racism and the heightened sense of political correctness by referring to the Redskins as the “Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons” (Longabaugh 2006, p. 17).
However, with the aforementioned data, it is confusing to think who they are advocating for. Clearly, it cannot be American Indians, as the vast majority of them not only think that name is not offensive, but embrace it as part of their culture and history. Kingston (Oklahoma) high school’s student body is 58 percent Native American, and yet the school has used the name “redskins” for 104 years (Ritz 2013). In fact, one teacher from the school says that “Oklahoma” is Choctaw for “red people” (Ritz 2013). Now the people of the area fear that they will be forced to lose the name. It is worth noting that Peter King made no reference to these people, nor did President Obama. Is this pure ignorance, or was it a flagrant omission? In either case, it is inexcusable for the media to report an issue like this. A famous way of thinking about journalism is saying that journalists, give a voice to the voiceless, and shine light in dark places. Where exactly is the light shining on this issue? Are journalists speaking for the voiceless Native Americans, or are journalists using the Native Americans to advance a progressive agenda? If Native Americans are not offended by the name, then the powerful liberal forces of white America will just be offended for them. It would certainly appear that the media thinks Native Americans are too stupid to understand that “redskins” is offensive to them. Hence the diatribes often aired on television or printed in publication. However, for those who love the name, there will be no changing their minds. For example, Red Mesa (Arizona) high school has a student body that is 99.3 percent Native American. Their team name? The Redskins. Or, the student body of Wellpinit (Washington) high school where 91.2 percent are Native American, and the members of the community are terrified the name will be taken from them (Reilly 2013). The Superintendent of Wellpinit schools, Tim Ames said this while speaking to Rick Reilly from ESPN, “‘Redskins’ is not an insult to our kids. ‘Wagon burners’ is an insult. ‘Prairie niggers’ is an insult. Those are very upsetting to our kids. But ‘redskins’ is an honorable name we wear with pride… In fact, I’d like to see someone come up here and try to change it.”
Well, Ames is going to get his wish, because that is exactly what the media is going to do. Bob Costas will take to the airwaves on Sunday Night Football to chastise users of the name, the supportive fans, and the so-called intolerant among us. Peter King will refrain from using it, as he is too good for the phrase. And the National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that if even one person was offended, the NFL needed to listen (Reilly 2013). These sentiments echo the exact opposite of what this country was based on. The majority of Native Americans love the name Redskins. Why is the media, comprised of mostly white, city dwellers, telling Native Americans what they should and should not be offended by? Why does the media see it fit to take part of their culture and heritage away? It would appear that the voiceless are not those who oppose the name-but those who support it. Where are their rescuers? Where is the light to shine on this abysmal place? Reilly ends his column by saying the following:
“The 81 year old Washington Redskins name is falling, and everybody better get out of the way. For the majority of Native Americans who don’t care, we’ll care for them. For the Native Americans who haven’t asked for help, we’re glad to give it to them. Trust us. We know what’s best. We’ll take this away for your own good, and put up barriers that protect you from ever being harmed again. Kind of like a reservation (2013).” Powerful words, certainly, but they are more necessary than ever. It is important that the media does some fact checking, and that media members humble themselves. Perhaps the best place to shine that light, is right down at their very own feet. The Native Americans have spoken. The word is adored. It is an honor to have it displayed on jerseys, helmets, and letterman jackets. Daniel Snyder is defending Native American people, by maintaining the use of “Redskins,” so that the imagery of the courageous Indians will live on and remain relevant in American culture. The media has chosen to disregard their responsibilities, to create a problem out of nothing, to perpetuate a fake controversy, to silence a large group of Native Americans (and others) who are for the name, and to essentially tell the vast majority of Native Americans that they are too stupid to understand what is offensive. Truly the “intolerant” people spoken of by the likes of King and Costas, are the media members who are treating the Native Americans as uneducated children, and they need to be held accountable for their actions.