Dan Snyder had a bad week on the public relations front. Fifty U.S. senators signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying it was time for the owner of the Washington franchise to abolish his team’s nickname.
The continued use of Redskins dishonors and disgusts the very Native Americans it’s supposed to honor. Not that Snyder or any of the team’s previous owners – dating back 82 years to founder George Preston Marshall – have cared. Bruce Allen, Washington’s team president, responded with his own letter Saturday: The nickname stays because it’s not meant to offend.
I think it’s time for Goodell, on his next visit to his new summer home in Prouts Neck, to talk to his Scarborough neighbors. They approved dropping the high school’s offensive team nickname in 2000, switching it to Red Storm.
Wiscasset and Sanford dropped Redskins more recently. Discussions in each community were contentious at times. Students and alumni insisted the nickname was intended to honor, not demean. The nickname was part of their identity.
All true but it missed the point. Arizona Sen. John McCain got it right when he spoke to radio talk show host Dan Patrick. “I’m not offended. You’re not offended. But there are Native Americans who are.”
What’s so difficult to understand? The nickname was born from death at worst, scorn at best. Native Americans’ skin became red from the blood running after he or she had been scalped or skinned.
Yes, that was 150, 200 years ago. Over time what was once a graphic image has been dulled or forgotten by most. Not by Native Americans who embrace their heritage.
The colonists and their heirs won the wars over nation building. The Native Americans lost their land, their identities or their lives. Call them a redskin and you slap them in the face. Of course that’s not your intent. But it’s the reality.
Your grandparents or great-grandparents, who came to America from Ireland or Italy, Poland, China, Puerto Rico or the west coast of Africa, were disrespected. You’re aware of the insulting names they were called based on their enthnicity. I don’t see those names used as nicknames on sports teams today.
Bruce Allen, in his response to the U.S. senators, said “the Redskins team name continues to carry a deep and purposeful meaning.” Of course it does. If you’re not a Native American.
The senators linked the Redskins nickname to the NBA’s reaction to disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his racist comments regarding African-Americans. He’s been banished from the NBA, which is pressuring his family to sell the team.
No one is calling Dan Snyder racist although his team carries that stink. George Preston Marshall was the last NFL owner to sign black football players. That finally happened in 1962, or when the U.S. government threatened to keep his team out of a new stadium that was built on federal property.
Vinnie Iyer wrote of a solution to the Redskins dilemma on the website of “The Sporting News.” At a name-change symposium organized by the Oneida Nation, he wrote, the substitute nickname Americans was proposed. The logo could be the profile of a Native American.
A good compromise. But Washington, as a politicians’ town or a football town, doesn’t do compromises easily.
When news of the senators’ letter to the NFL broke, I thought of Ed Rice, the teacher who grew up in Old Town, not far from the Penobscot reservation on Indian Island. He is not a Native American but has advocated for them for decades with a passion that some don’t want to hear.
He has fought to have Louis Sockalexis of Indian Island recognized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the first Native American to play baseball. He’s fought to convince the Cleveland Indians to drop their insulting Chief Wahoo, with no success.
The Indians do say they are named in memory of Sockalexis, who played in the outfield when the team was named the Spiders at the turn of the 20th century. A bronzed likeness of Sockalexis’ face can be seen above one of the main gates to Progressive Field.
Rice, with others, worked to have Native American nicknames changed at Maine high schools. That hasn’t earned him friends in the communities, but Penobscots and Passamaquoddys and Maliseets in Maine are grateful.
Rice was running the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, when I tried to contact him Saturday with little success. Changes in attitude and perception have been slow, but Rice has seen a realization of what’s right. The new nicknames at Maine high schools are a testament to that.
Dan Snyder can do the right thing. It won’t be difficult.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: