Commentary: Rebranding the Washington Redskins

For 81 years the Washington Redskins have played football under the same moniker. For 81 years they’ve held tight to the same mascot. For 81 years they’ve avoided any major controversy.

But things will change. It’s only a matter of time.

Is the name “Redskins” racist? Does it matter? Are people really offended, or is it a product of a country trending toward overt political correctness?

I am a Redskins fan. I’m not just a fan-I bleed the burgundy and gold and spend an illogical amount of time giving the team my undivided attention. This is important because I have a natural bias toward keeping the name as it is. Saying I’m anything other than a Redskins fan seems silly and unnatural.

But I’m also not stupid. As much as I love the name, I also realize that it is indeed derogatory toward many Native American people. I hate to admit it, but my favorite team is facing an uphill battle.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder recently wrote a letter to fans saying that the mascot was part of the pride and honor that came with rooting for the Washington Redskins. He also reiterated that he will not be changing the name, no matter what the public thinks of his decision. I sympathize with Snyder, who is a genius in the business world and may be the biggest Redskins fan on the face of the earth. But a quick look at history tells you that perhaps, just maybe, the name is racist after all.

The Redskins were founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves. In 1933, they were renamed the Redskins and moved to Washington, D.C. four years later. The co-owner of the team was George Preston Marshall. Using the name “Redskins” was his idea, which is something of a problem in the eyes of many because Marshall was a noted racist, perhaps the most infamous racist in NFL history. The NFL began accepting African- American players in 1946 but Marshall refused to integrate the Redskins until 1962-and that was only because Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy threatened to revoke their lease on old D.C. Stadium if he refused to comply.

To top it all off, the George Preston Marshall Foundation, founded after his death, expressly states that no money should be allocated “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.”

So even if people believe the name isn’t racist in 2013, the fact remains that it was quite possibly meant to be racist in 1933.

The argument most often postulated is that if the name “Redskins” is okay for a mascot, then calling a team a name that is offensive to African-Americans, Hispanics, or Asians should be considered okay as well. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that would work. Polls indicate that most people don’t advocate a change; it doesn’t mean keeping the name is right.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time Washington has been subjected to a controversy concerning the name of a local sports team. The late Abe Pollin, then the owner of the Washington Bullets, was fed up with his NBA franchise’s name and its connection to gun violence. At the time, gang violence in the D.C. area was peaking. The murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, one of Pollin’s closest friends, only added to the owner’s desire for a change. The team’s name was changed to the Wizards and has been that way ever since. While it was not a popular decision, it was an example of an owner acting decisively for the greater good.

But the Bullets never had a following like the Redskins do. There was no Bullets Nation, yet fans identify with Redskins Nation. Changing the basketball team’s name was nowhere near as bold as changing the football team’s name would be.

I’m torn on this issue. I don’t want the team to change the name, and I’m convinced that the root of the controversy is the wave of political correctness that is slowly overtaking the country. But I also think that there is more to this than simply being politically correct. The term “redskin” has been used as a derogatory slang term since the 1750s, and while it may not be explicitly racist anymore, it’s still offensive to many people.

A 2004 University of Pennsylvania study concluded that over 90 percent of Native Americans find nothing offensive about the name. That alone should put the debate to rest, but polls are never all-encompassing. The word “redskin” has different connotations among different tribes.

There are enough people who think it should be changed. After careful thought, I’ve concluded that I absolutely do not want the name to change-but I think that it absolutely should.