Slate will no longer refer to the Washington “Redskins” football team

In a nod to the growing movement to force Washington, DC’s football team, the Washington Redskins, to change its name, Slate magazine has decided to no longer refer to the team as the “Redskins.”

Nomenclature, and overall messaging – words – in politics are important.  So I don’t fault native American activists for trying to change something they see as wrong.  I do, however, find Slate’s approach novel, and curious. Here’s the title to their story announcing this:

slate-redskins

You could get into the question of whether a news service should take sides on a story.  Then again, the media takes sides all the time.  For example, the media doesn’t feel that it needs to give both sides to a story about whether one race is genetically inferior.  And reporters in recent years have stopped treating the “are gays pedophiles” argument as anymore more than a right-wing smear (previously, we/I had to go on TV and debate whether we were pedophiles). So it’s not like the media is every fully impartial.

Having said that, this reminds me of the battle to change the word “illegally alien” to “undocumented immigrant.”  Personally, I have a linguistic and intellectual problem with both phrases.  Illegal alien is too negative, and I’d argue that it’s the “alien” part that’s the big problem, not the “illegal.”  Illegal immigrant gets you closer to accuracy.  The problem I have with “undocumented immigrant” is that it waters down the real issue.  This isn’t someone who has documents, has citizenship, and just happened to lose his documents.  It’s someone who crossed the border, and came into this country, illegally.  I don’t fault immigration activists for pushing the use of the new phrase, as it definitely helps them and their cause.  I just find the phrase not entirely accurate.

Washington-REdskins

Then there’s my undergrad college, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  There had been a controversy for years about our school symbol, an Illini Indian chief named Chief Illiniwek (Illinois was named after the Illini Indians).  And rather than being some goofy mascot of a guy in a silly costume jumping around like an idiot with a tomahawk – he wasn’t permitted to do anything demeaning like a typical college mascot – Chief Illiniwek was actually someone who was carefully trained to perform a rather difficult dance, based in part on a combination of native dances, while wearing a traditional, authentic Sioux war costume.  It was really quite amazing, and beautiful, to behold. it didn’t mock, or make fun of, Native Americans at all.

Because of the pressure, U of I retired the chief in 2007.  And while I recognize that some native groups found it offensive, as someone not Native American I found the impact of the chief to be quite the opposite of what they alleged.  He reminded of my state’s Indian past, the wardrobe was stunning, and the dance beautiful and mesmerizing.  I can appreciate that some native Americans were offended, but to date I think they did more harm than good in this particular case, as they removed something that was actually reminding people in a respectful way about our past, and their history.

The question becomes what the ultimate purpose is is going after these mascots, and I think that’s to eliminate defamation.  In some cases, the use is defamatory, in some cases it’s not.  My junior high’s mascot was the Spartans, and I was honored as a Greek that they had borrowed something from our past.  Now, had they shown him as some idiot, then yes I’d have been offended.  Context matters.

As for the Redskins?  The name is based on a slur.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Even if the name isn’t intended to be a slur today, it kind of reminds me of people arguing that it’s okay to use the word “f*g” because they don’t mean gay people, they just mean weak effeminate guys.  Well, maybe.  But the word is still a slur.  I’m just not sure how you get around that fact, or the name “Redskin.”


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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78 Responses to “Slate will no longer refer to the Washington “Redskins” football team”

  1. ArthurH says:

    BusinessWeek had an article where the Washington football team was considering a name change. One f the best was simply shortening the name to the Washington Skins and using a tattoo-like drawing for its logo. Better than the Washington Rocs (after Sinbad’s fictional bird).
    As for the Cleveland Indians it is the logo that is racist. Prior to becoming the Indians in 1914 the Cleveland baseball team used several other names (the Naps?). The one used longest was the Spiders. Hey! Who is better at catching flies than spiders. They could then have a truly original mascot, and a movie tie-in is they ever make a sequel to “Eight-Legged Freaks.”

  2. Ivee Carl says:

    I couldn’t agree more! :)
    ___________________________________________________________________________

    finances

  3. BillFromPA says:

    Is that the sound of crickets I’m hearing? Whether one wants the change or favors the status quo, Slate doesn’t exactly cause pants wetting.

  4. bruce says:

    The name is not a slur, it is what bounty was offered for-the tops of indigenous people’s heads in colonial/early US history times.

  5. hefetone says:

    How about we take a cue from one of the most revered names, the Fighting Irish, with a green Irish guy in a fighting stance? We could call the Washington team the Fighting Africans, or the Fighting Natives (Americans), or……Context does matter, and ‘Redskins’ is a derogatory name, but the characterization of Irish as violent is also a problem, isn’t it?

  6. Indigo says:

    I’m descended from the Pokagon Potawatami of the Michiana area and take no offense at the Amerindian names for sports teams. Some folks take offense, others do not. I expect that as time moves on and social values adjust themselves, more and more of those names will be set aside in favor of animal names or geographic features. That’s fine. What worries me is not the existing names but the growing animosity the surrounds those names. Living in peace is never as easy as finding something to quarrel about.

  7. Indigo says:

    LOL!

  8. vyduxawanuxe says:

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kAgk

    There are people who have tried to make the point that the Notre Dame
    mascot is rather absurd and offensive to some, but their response is
    pretty much the same, involving lots of shrugging and mumbling something
    about the history of the team.

  9. Houndentenor says:

    The name should have been changed decades ago. There’s no reason to cling to this offensive term. It should have happened decades ago, but didn’t. It can be changed now.

  10. Martin says:

    I don’t see the big deal, it’s an offensive name, just change it. We aren’t as insensitive to cultures that we’ve destroyed as we used to be, so why not move on.
    Go Washington Indigenous People!!!

    P.S., I hope I spelled that correctly

  11. BeccaM says:

    Or they could sell the team to Hawaii and call them the Honolulu Haoles.

  12. devlzadvocate says:

    What if they kept the “Redskins” moniker and changed the logo to a potato?

  13. caphillprof says:

    I’ve always wondered why local media didn’t stop referring to them by the nomer.

  14. forminsko says:

    This writer is smart. Really interesting article with several salient points. Thanks!

  15. PeteWa says:

    definitely more ‘Merkin.

  16. SkippyFlipjack says:

    The NBA is getting some Pelicans this year.

  17. Thom Allen says:

    Chink’s Steaks, a popular Philadelphia sandwich shop, had a name change. The owner changed the name because it was perceived as a racial slur by some. The neighborhood was not happy. http://now.msn.com/chinks-steaks-sales-drop-after-name-change

  18. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I didn’t mean to be picky about the terminology, just meant it’s different if the NY Times started calling them the Washington _________ than if Slate does it.

    Gregg Easterbrook writes a weekly column for ESPN during the football season where he’s called the team the “Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons” for at least a couple of years.

  19. Zorba says:

    Name them the Washington Lobbyists. That’s the group that has the most power inside the Beltway, anyway.

  20. Naja pallida says:

    I debated between that and “The ignorant don’t know any better.” but I figured it sounded more ‘Merkin.

  21. PeteWa says:

    “Ignorance doesn’t know any better.”
    I love that sentence.

  22. Naja pallida says:

    It could be perceived that way when you consider that many Native American dances have cultural and/or religious significance, and are used to tell stories of their history and mythos. What other culture would like someone not of their heritage, dressed up to look kind of like them, and essentially mimicking things they have no understanding of?

  23. RyansTake says:

    Editorial and news are not mutually exclusive. News can be editorial and has been for a lot longer than people have been taught to have the funny notion that news should express no opinion (instead of advocacy journalism, which is just as merited, or news that isn’t afraid to print the truth, even if by printing the truth they’re printing ‘opinions,’ insofar as a stance is taken).

  24. RyansTake says:

    There aren’t any real Celts left? Don’t go saying that in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man or Britanny… you know, the six Celtic nations, which not only have Celtic culture and history, but Celtic languages that have existed in the modern times (some of which are still fairly widely spoken, like in Wales, were roughly 20% of the population still speaks Welsh).

    This Irish guy still feels pretty Celtic.

  25. RyansTake says:

    Just look up the old — now no longer used — lyrics to the Redskin’s fighting song. It’s clear the name is rooted in racism.

    I don’t think all names have to be, but this one definitely is.

  26. I’d never thought of that.

  27. I wasn’t sure what to call them. They’re not a blog. An online magazine of opinion?

  28. Well, I suppose there aren’t any real Celts left are there? Ditto for leprechauns, drunken or otherwise :)

  29. Once again, the team is named the Illini after the Illini Indians.

  30. The thing is that the name Redskin is perceived as a slur, isn’t it? If so, then it is mocking, even if unintentionally – thus the example I gave above of people who claim “that’s so gay” isn’t referring to gay people.

  31. The team is named the Illini, after the Indian tribe that the state is named after, it’s not a slur. And I’m not sure I’d call a composite traditional native American dance “running around like crazy.”

  32. ARP says:

    OK, prairie n*gger. I’m OK with it and nobody else has the right to be offended by it, because I’m not.

  33. nicho says:

    Aussie Rules Football is a much better game than American football — very rough and tough and physical. They manage to name their teams after such fearsome things as Lions, Tigers, Eagles, Hawks, Cats, and Swans.

  34. nicho says:

    I like that. They could call themselves the Teabaggers and thier mascot could be an old white guy with teabags dangling from his hat, riding around in his Medicare-supplied scooter and carrying signs against big government.

  35. intoxination says:

    So you use a racist slur against Middle Eastern people to try and make your argument? Better luck next time!

  36. SkippyFlipjack says:

    how great would that be? “bbbbbut that’s offensive! it’s demeaning! it’s insulting!” hahaha

  37. JozefAL says:

    Yeah, but eventually Boehner will be gone and people will wonder where the name came from. And with the inevitable reruns, people will question why a team in Washington, DC named themselves for the cast of “Jersey Shore.”

  38. emjayay says:

    But you *are* Blanche, you *are*…..

  39. Naja pallida says:

    They could go with the Washington Teabaggers… but then they might be mistaken for the House of “Representatives”.

  40. emjayay says:

    The minimal collective energy expended in changing the name of Squaw Peak or the Redskins is more than worth it.

  41. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Yes! What if they were the Washington Born-Agains? Or the Washington Fundamentalist Nutjobs?

  42. emjayay says:

    There is also a difference of course between mocking the dominant culture and a minority. Not that Redskins or Squaw Peak etc. were really thought of as mocking and perpetuating negative stereotypes in the olden days.

    How about Stupid Ignorant Uneducated Toothless Chrisitianist White Honky Trailer Trashes?

  43. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I think it’s sort of the exception that proves the rule though — the students chose something that wasn’t fierce specifically because it wasn’t fierce, and they got substantial press coverage for it.

    The Stanford Cardinal though — now that’s just plain stupid. (Coincidentally, for a time they were the Indians.)

  44. Naja pallida says:

    Seems to me that popular support is what teams most want. Not much else matters. :)

  45. emjayay says:

    And Squaw Peak near Tucson was renamed Piestwa Peak. Lori Piestwa was a Hopi woman soldier killed in Iraq.

  46. SkippyFlipjack says:

    The Banana Slugs was kind of a joke. The university had a vote on a new mascot and the decidedly counter-culture UCSC student body chose the Banana Slug over the original choice, the Sea Lion, since they’re a common sight in the area and because the chancellor didn’t like the idea.

  47. Naja pallida says:

    The Greenbay Packers were named for the Indian Packing Company, but being called the Indian Packers could be taken all sorts of wrong.

  48. Naja pallida says:

    The sad part is, many people would probably think it was hilarious. Ignorance doesn’t know any better. I think the popularity of reality shows that essentially serve no purpose other than to mock the stupidity of certain groups of white people speaks for itself. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty challenge the ratings of some of the best scripted television there is.

  49. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Did you work in Green Bay? Because then the Vikings thing would make sense.

  50. emjayay says:

    I always thought the Banana Slugs was great. Last I heard they have maintained it, even though the 60’s are long gone. Along with the yellow tee shirts.

  51. nicho says:

    I wonder how the average white sports fan would feel about an all-black team that called themselves “The Honkies” and had a black guy in whiteface running around acting crazy.

  52. Indigo says:

    I like it!

  53. ARP says:

    Our mascot is Tommy Hawk, is a hawk that beats on a drum at the corner bars of the stadium. I get what you’re saying, but at best, we’re less offensive than say, the Cleveland Indians. I guess I’ll give us credit by creating a non-Indian mascot, which would open us up to all sorts of negative portrayals.

  54. Naja pallida says:

    Seems to me, that the world over, aboriginal peoples have much more serious things to be concerned about with the slow dissolution of their culture than a few racist stereotypes, but because one person isn’t offended, doesn’t mean someone else isn’t. Of course, no matter what you say, or do, someone, somewhere will find a way to be offended, so the question is, what is our collective energy better spent addressing?

  55. Naja pallida says:

    True, and entirely likely… but that is just really an argument for why they should change with the times, and act like a modern entity to encourage as much participation as possible, instead of being proud to be a racist throwback.

  56. ARP says:

    I’m not offended by the term sand n*gger and my grandfather is a full blooded Native American too. So, I guess it’s OK to use that term since I’m OK with it and lots of other white people are OK with it.

    /obtuse logic.

  57. ARP says:

    Notre Dame is essentially a bigoted mascot from the late 1800’s (the Irish). The problem I see is that I don’t think the current mascots won’t transform into something less offensive over time.

  58. BeccaM says:

    I’ve got a problem with it, as I do with any stereotypical portrayal of the Irish as short ginger-haired alcoholics with bad tempers.

    The only upside is at least they don’t have some girl dressed as Medb or Boudicca doing splits and cartwheels.

  59. Naja pallida says:

    Or could name them in honor of John Boehner’s wonderful job as Speaker of the House, the Washington Orangeskins. It’s both topical and realistic.

  60. ARP says:

    True- I think good intentions end up with stereotypical portrayals of many Indian mascots.

  61. ARP says:

    Agreed. Which is why I don’t think they’re OK, because not only are they using an offensive name, but they’re using it “generically” for a fictitious Indian with all the negative stereotypes that go with it.

  62. Indigo says:

    The Washington Pale Faces makes sense to me.

  63. intoxination says:

    This stuff really drives me crazy. I take no offense to the name, and that’s having a full blooded Native American grandfather. It even pissed me off when my alma mater, Miami University, changed their team name from the Redskins to the Redhawks.

  64. nicho says:

    Redskin is not generic. It was and is an offensive racial slur.

  65. Naja pallida says:

    I’m more offended by the mispronunciation of Celtic. :)

  66. nicho says:

    How do they feel about the Celtics and their drunken leprechaun logo?

  67. Naja pallida says:

    There are people who have tried to make the point that the Notre Dame mascot is rather absurd and offensive to some, but their response is pretty much the same, involving lots of shrugging and mumbling something about the history of the team.

    In the end, it’s about marketing… the Redskins could always choose a local nation to name themselves for instead of a random racial slur, but the nations in the Washington DC area, the Nacotchtank and Piscataway, don’t exactly roll off the tongue. :)

  68. BrianWPB says:

    I think you’re right that it depends on the view of the tribe at that point.
    The Seminoles, for example, officially sanction and consider it an honor to be associated with FSU and its “Chief Osceola” mascot.
    The more PC tribes might not appreciate it, and since Native Americans are not monolithic, there will probably never be consensus on whether or not they want to be offended by “Indian” mascots.
    But, who will speak for the Irish offended by Notre Dame and its leprechaun caricature of the “fighting Irish?”

  69. Monoceros Forth says:

    Like all “news” then!

  70. Monoceros Forth says:

    Indeed. I’m reminded of what George Orwell had to say in passing about the cultish veneration of Scotland in his harsh essay “Such, Such Were the Joys”: “…the pretended belief in Scottish superiority was a cover for the bad conscience of the occupying English, who had pushed the Highland peasantry off their farms to make way for the deer forests, and then compensated them by turning them into servants.”

  71. BeccaM says:

    The problem with a mascot like ‘Chief Illiniwek’ is that while the portrayal may be non-goofy, nevertheless, a person, an iconic figure, is reduced to a parody. A human pet.

    Using a purportedly ‘authentic’ Sioux war costume for a sporting event performance, intended to entertain, and adding a bunch of unrelated Native American dances — however well executed — would be like dressing someone up in a Catholic Bishop costume and having him caper and dance in front of a sporting event audience, twirling his crook in elaborate spins and spinning flaming bowls of smoking incense on the ends of long chains.

    It might be impressive, but it’s still disrespectful.

  72. Naja pallida says:

    Fierce defenders, like the New Jersey Devils? Or animals we want on our side like the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs? How about the awesomeness that is the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. :) Most often they’re named for whatever gets the fans interested, or what sponsored the team in the first place, ala the Greenbay Packers. It’s only ever been about money, and if a team feels their bottom line threatened, they’ll change coaches, players, cities, or even their name, in a heartbeat.

  73. cole3244 says:

    well its a start and some will follow but much later down the line.

  74. ARP says:

    I think there is a spectrum:

    Blackhawk, Illini, etc. where a specific tribe is referenced= Probably OK (but their particular portrayal is questionable at times).

    Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and other “generic” Native American names= Probably not OK.

  75. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I’m not sure I’d call Slate a “news service”; I read them daily and I think they’re basically all editorial.

  76. Tony T says:

    I find the term “Redskin” offensive but I’m not an American Indian. I wonder what their thoughts are on it. Also, as a Chicagoan I think the Chicago Blackhawks do a great job respecting the Indian culture but I also wonder how American Indians feel about the Indian head as the team logo.

  77. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Josh at TPM had a good post on an unrelated topic the other day where he had this to say about the public image of Native Americans. I think this short passage says a lot about why Native American mascots are problematic, and not just when they involve slang terms like “Redskins”:

    If you look over the swath of four centuries of North American settler history there is an unmistakable change in settler or white American perceptions of Native Americans before and after they become a totally militarily defeated people and largely vanish from the physical landscape of North America. Before they range from frightening to literally satanic to a permanent ‘other’ counterpoised against America’s civilizing, industrializing mission. But after the Indian becomes part of the past, in the American national psyche, there’s a great change. The image and memory undergo a profound transformation. The idealized figure of the Indian warrior – as opposed to the marginalized and impoverished Native Americans pent up on reservations – becomes something like a mascot for the American character, supposedly embodying various American national virtues.

  78. condew says:

    We don’t name sports teams after things we hate or don’t respect; more often we name them for fierce defenders, the people or animals you want on your side and not “theirs”.

    In the government offices where I once worked, somebody of Norwegian decent noted that there was an image of a Viking, his honorable ancestor, on the plastic holders of all the urinal cakes. Now that’s offensive. (To building management’s credit, once the slur was pointed out, the cake holders all disappeared in a single night.)

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