Did you know the Washington Redskins were originally the Boston Braves and, for a time in the 1930s, played their home games at Fenway Park?
That was when the team’s nickname was changed to the Redskins by their owners. It made sense in those much simpler times. For the sake of symmetry, it was the Boston Red Sox for baseball and Boston Redskins for football. In 1937, the team relocated to Washington and has since been known by their current moniker.
Today, a political and ideological push to get the NFL team’s latest owner, Dan Snyder, to change the nickname is in full force. Many groups, including the Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, find the nickname offensive, demeaning or racist.
The MHA Nation passed a resolution on Oct. 10 titled “Rename the Washington Redskins,” wrote a letter to the editor about the issue — it appeared in Saturday’s newspaper (Page A6) — and The Press interviewed chairman Tex Hall about the topic for a story that appears on the front page of our Sports section today.
“Our tribe’s position is that ‘Redskins’ is derogatory,” Hall states in the article. “It came from taking scalps and taking bounty.”
While that may have been where the term originated, based on the franchise’s history, one would believe the original owners’ intention — like most other decisions made by professional sports organizations — was, at its heart, a marketing decision.
Native American groups and other organizations not affiliated with American Indians who are speaking out to denounce the Redskins nickname need to be asked what they felt about the issue a decade ago, or even last year. Did they find the term offensive then, or is this merely a product of the recent push to change the nickname driven by some members of the media and backed by one side of the political aisle who should probably be concentrating on more pressing matters?
In 2002, Sports Illustrated reporter S.L. Price penned a lengthy article titled “Indian Wars.” For the article, the magazine conducted a poll of Native Americans and asked them several questions about team nicknames with arguably offensive Native American monikers.
In the poll, the story states, “75 percent of Native American respondents … said they were not (offended), and even on reservations, where Native American culture and influence are perhaps felt most intensely, 62 percent said they weren’t offended.”
Has the tide really turned that much in a decade? Or, like with most other things in this world, did a small group of “concerned citizens” get everyone all riled up?
I don’t remember hearing much complaint about the nickname last season, though it has come up before with the Redskins and there is a history of high school and college teams changing their nicknames, including the college right here at home.
Dickinson State went through it in the early ’70s and dumped the Savages moniker for Blue Hawks in 1974. It took them a little longer to drop “chief and princess” titles for their homecoming king and queen.
I remember cheering for the St. John’s Redmen and Syracuse Orangemen playing in the NCAA basketball tournament. They’re now the “Red Storm” and the “Orange.” I, like many, own University of North Dakota apparel with the “Sioux” nickname and logo on it. While I don’t pretend to be a huge NHL fan, I follow the Chicago Blackhawks more than most other teams.
Does any of that make me racist? No. It makes me a sports fan. If UND had never been nicknamed the Sioux, I still would probably have worn their gear at some point in my life.
While I don’t cheer for the Washington Redskins, I do believe the owners should be the ones who make the final decision on whether or not to keep the nickname. No one should be able to force them to keep it or change it.
Hall told The Press that Snyder has a chance for a “lasting legacy as someone who wanted to make a bridge with the tribes and do something good. Everybody would remember him for many years to come.”
While some professional teams have changed their nicknames over time, none have done so to rid themselves of a Native American-based name.
As much as Hall and others with his viewpoint hope, it’s doubtful that Snyder and the Redskins will be the first.
Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him atdmonke@thedickinsonpress, tweet him at monkebusiness and visit his blog at monke.areavoices.com to read more of his columns and features.