I admit to it. I have been a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. I have lived and died with my team since I was old enough to watch TV. My father and brother are also fans of the Redskins. From Riggo’s 4th and 1 run against the Dolphins, the 35 points scored against the Bronco’s in the second quarter, and the domination of the Bills, I have watched and remembered every one of the Redskin 3 Superbowl victories. Along the way, I’ve listened to many friends complain about the name in an effort to disrupt my devotion. Most of the time I simply ignored it, but other times I agreed with them. I may have only been doing that to get them to stop, but I must admit that at times, I assumed that what they were saying was right. They continued to pursue the idea that the name was derogatory and inflammatory. Without any evidence to the contrary, I simply agreed. Then one day, I was reading an article from Sports Illustrated, and the subject came up about Indian mascots in sports. It started to give me another perspective.
Where did the name Redskins come from?
Surprisingly, the name Redskin is not a North American one. Its original meaning had nothing to do with the scalps of Indians. The original name was a European one used to describe Algonquins who painted their face with bright red ocher and bloodroot, thereby making their face red with war paint. Only later on was it implied that the name was derived from a Native American’s exposure to the sun or from the scalps of Indians that were paid to cowboys as bounties. Unfortunately, for some reason, perhaps because of our own ignorance, the name is believed to come from the human scalps of Native Americans. However, the original meaning comes from Europe and was used by the Europeans when they arrived in North America, hundreds of years before any reference to any other meaning was used. This is supported by Reader’s Digest in its book “Americas Fascinating Indian Heritage” where it is quoted as stating the name Redskin was..
“inspired not by their natural complexion but by their fondness for vermilion makeup, concocted from fat mixed with berry juice and minerals that provided the desired color. The men would streak their faces and bodies with bright red ocher and bloodroot.”
It doesn’t end there, red is the most common color used by Native Americans in painting their skin. According to Dress Clothing of the Plains Indians by Ronal P. Koch,
“Red is generally accepted as being one of the colors most easily available to and most used by Indians for decorative and ceremonial purposes,”
Therefore, contrary to popular, and misguided opinion, the original name was never meant to imply anything other than the color of war paint. It was only much later that people wrongly applied the name to mean something derogatory.
Who gave the Redskins their name?
The original name for franchise was the Boston Braves. In 1933, the name was changed to Redskins by the team’s coach William “Lone Star” Dietz who was actually Sioux. He was known to dress up in regalia and be open about his pride of being Native American. He saw the name as bestowing an image of pride and recognition for the Native American people. Therefore, the name itself came from a Native American who saw nothing wrong with the name.
What do Native Americans themselves think?
This is where it gets kind of odd. In actuallity, less than 18% of Native Americans are offended by Indian Mascots in pro sports. In a March 4, 2002 Sports Illustrated 7 page editorial entitled “The Indian Wars”, a poll was conducted amongst Native Americans. Surprisingly, the following information was gathered
“Asked if high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames, 81% of Native American respondents said no. As for pro sports, 83% of Native American respondents said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots, characters and symbols.”
This begs the question: If it doesn’t bother Native Americans, why are so many non Indians taking up a fight against Indian mascots in pro sports? The answer is rather odd, but could be attributed to the misunderstanding of the real meaning of Redskin, or it could simply be moral guilt. This is our attempt to make amends for something we were never a part of and could not control. The compaign against the Native American by the United States was a dark part of our nation’s history. Perhaps this is the reason for today’s offense towards the use of Indian mascots.
Most Native Americans are not only not offended, they’re actually fans!
The odd thing is that not only are most Native Americans not offended, but they a large number of them are actually fans. For a number of Native Americans, the Redskin image itself is of a proud chief and it bestows pride and accomplishment. It is not a caricature of an Indian. In fact, what truly offends Native Americans are caricatures, such as the big nose of the Cleveland Indians logo, or the tomahawk chop of the Altanta Braves.
There is an interesting angle on how Native Americans view indians as mascots. In Montreal Canada, McGill university is one of North America’s most prestigious educational institutions. Between 1982 to 1992, both its football and hockey teams had an Aboriginal Chief in full head gear as their Mascot. An Aboriginal in Canada is simply a Native American in the United States. The team name is “Redmen”. The university decided to stop using the mascot at the request of a non-Aboriginal student. Before the decision was reached, the University consulted with the Chief of the First Nations in Canada and with an Aboriginal team member, Both were fine with the use of the mascot and actually wrote letters attesting to their support. If you want to read the article, it is attached here.
What about the Notre Dame fighting Irish and their “Paddy Wagon”
I am sure there are plenty of Irish people that are annoyed by the College’s Paddy Wagon. Are all Irish people drunks that need to be picked up off the street in the morning because they couldn’t make it home that night?That’s exactly what the Paddy Wagon refers to, picking up the hung over Irish who can’t help themselves but to get stupid drunk. I am sure if someone did a poll, you’ll likely find higher number of Irish that are offended by this reference than there are Native American’s offended by Redskins. I don’t see anyone screaming about that!
The reality is that while some Native Americans may truly be offended by the Redskin names, most are more offended when their heritage is made fun of or disrespected. Perhaps this is why amongst Native Americans, the Redskin franchise itself is not seen as the biggest offender. When caricatures are used to mock or disrespect Native Americans, then I myself agree that this is over the line. I also tend to believe that if a Native American were to tell me how offended they were by the Redskin name, then I would have to be inclined to agree with them. However, they simply are not the majority, and we should not carry the torch on their behalf. It is their right and there’s alone. I suppose if tomorrow the number of Native Americans that wanted the name changed suddenly reached a fever pitch and was 90% of the view, I would stand side by side with them. However, until then, go Redskins!