By Lorenzo Bellamy
I really do like the game of football, and I do mean football and not my true sports passion for soccer (the real football). Having lived in Washington, DC for almost twenty-two years, you would think that if I did not initially start out liking the Washington Football Team, during my tenure in the Nation’s Capital, I would have developed some appreciation for the team. Trust me, I want to like the Washington Football Team, but for reasons that question rationale and for reasons that make perfect sense, I have not been able to reconcile with the team’s official name-The Washington Redskins.
My dislike for Washington’s Football Team started in the mid 70’s. My dad was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. Before each new overseas posting, we, as a family, would return to U.S. home soil for a month or so. During one such transition, a friend of my parents invited us over for a day of fellowship. These friends had a son who as it turned out loved the Washington Football team. This son, asked if I knew anything about football, to which I proudly and with all confidence answered “Yes!” and then proceeded to talk about my favorite Brazilian, Dutch, German and French football players and how “the beautiful game“ is played. He quickly informed me that I was not an American and need to be educated about real football. We then went to his backyard where he was going to show and tell me about football. He told me I would be representing the Dallas Cowboys and he would be the Washington “Redskins”. He then proceeded to crush me in a one-on-one game, leaving me with a bloody nose from a poorly angled tackle attempt – I never forgot that. Thus, my irrational dislike of the “Skins”.
Flash forward twenty years and now armed with knowledge of the civil rights struggles of African-Americans and the persistent demise of the social, economic, cultural, academic status and fabric of Native Americans in the United States, I have a rational reason for disliking the Washington Football team. The dislike is not based on the members of the team, coaching staff or for that matter even the loyal fan base. No, my dislike is exclusively focused and based on the official name of the team -The Washington Redskins, and the perpetuation of that name by successive owners. The term “Redskin” is a grotesque pejorative, a word that for centuries has been used to disparage and humiliate an entire people (By Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post Staff Writer -Monday, October 3, 2005).
When I confront many of my friends, colleagues, and family about the term “Redskin” as the official name of Washington, DC’s vaunted football team, the responses are surprising. Many are not aware that the term “Redskin” is offensive to an entire people group. Some actually believe that it’s a term showcasing pride and a fighting spirit, others simply ignore the issue all together and without moral compass, proudly hail the Redskins. Finally some dismiss my questions and position because I am a Dallas Cowboys fan, “America’s team” and the proclaimed opposition to the “Redskins” and viewed as the instigators and implementers of the “racial” classification of Native Americans as Redskins. That’s for another blog.
Native American’s have tried unsuccessfully to legally challenge the “Redskins” trademark based on its offensive nature. Unfortunately, the “Redskins” powerful front office and ownership have successfully blocked attempts to change the name. With a huge fan support base encouraging the use of the derogatory name, the owners and players have no impetus to change the name. Sadly, Native American’s have little voice in this nation and little impact in political America. They do, however, have many distinctive claims and issues. First, Native American’s have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country per capita, they have a significant drug and alcohol addiction problem within their community, and still remain less than 1% of the US population, while all other ethnic and racial groups have seen population increases, even if slight. While their cultural heritage is deep and contributions to the United States are immeasurable, vestiges of discrimination still impact the fabric of many Native Americans. Given the history of African-Americans in this country, I am surprised at our reaction to using Native American culture as mascots in sports. Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game? Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?
—”Native American Mascots Big Issue in College Sports”, Teaching Tolerance, May 9, 2001
We have come a long way in not tolerating demeaning terms. I asked a family member once, what if the team was called the Fighting Black Sambos or Blackie – you get the drift. Part of the education of my children, who are home schooled, is to be tolerant of diversity, but intolerant of actions, statements, and beliefs that demean a group of people based on the color of their skin. I believe that if the Washington Football Team changed their name and removed the profile of a Native American as their mascot, the team would experience unprecedented blessings and rewards, both seen and unseen. Removing the term Redskin would be the right thing to do even if initially the team would experience a financial hit. I like the Washington Football Team; it’s the use of “Redskins” as the team’s official name that causes my spirit to grieve.