There is no flimsier justification for maintaining a blatantly offensive tradition than to predicate it on "But that's the way it has always been." Yet, that is the primary justification for the Washington Redskins to keep a name that is clearly offensive to many Native Americans. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, basically admitted as much back in June. He cited the team's heritage and traditions as reasons to keep the name in place.
So, what is the heritage of the Redskins? The name Redskins came into being back in 1932 having been renamed from a team known as the Boston Braves, allegedly to honor a Native American coach (who may not have actually been a Native American, but that is for another time). Here is some of the rich "heritage" that characterized the rest of the country during those 1930s: Racism was in full swing. In 1932 roughly half of all African Americans were out of work. In the South, there was a surge of violence and there were segregated bathrooms, restaurants and schools. By 1939, a reputable polling firm determined that only 39 percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people. Further, earlier this year, GM got into some hot water when they released an ad with a song called "Oriental Swing" that featured lyrics such as "ching-chong, chop suey, swing some more!". The song's origins? You guessed it, back in the good ole' 30's. Around that time, gays were called fruitcakes and homosexuality was declared a mental illness. The list goes on. So, the argument is that a team name that uses a term associated with a history of pejorative connotations, that was bestowed in a time period in which bigotry was rampant, should be kept due to tradition? Well that hardly seems like a heritage to maintain.
Another popular argument about the Redskins name is that Native Americans themselves largely take pride in the moniker. I'm reminded of the point Bill Cosby, African American comedian turned activist, made to his own race about the dangers of embracing pejorative terms. Irrespective, there are plenty of Native Americans who truly find the term offensive. Today's news that Oneida Nation is disappointed with the NFL's persistence in using what they deem to be an offensive racial slur is more than enough justification to make the change. Why should a sports team associate itself with a name that others find demeaning?
Abe Pollin, may he rest in peace, was particularly sensitive about team names. He owned the Washington professional basketball team that had long been known as the Bullets, when Abe decided to change the name. In an era in which Washington, D.C. was the murder capital of the country, he felt like the name was insensitive. Some will say that Abe was overly sentimental (he certainly hung on to Wes Unseld as a coach for a painfully long time!), but you have to admire his compassion and ability to keep sports in perspective. Besides, there are so many good names waiting in the wings to replace Redskins: My favorite is the Washington Gridlock (a name that aptly describes both the political and traffic situation in the DC area) though the Washington Filibusters has potential as well. Imagine the mascot.