To most of American Indian tribes
“Redskins” gives off most unfortunate vibes.
ut changing the name is a radical scheme
To the owner and fans of the Washington team.
The Washington Redskins have long been a target of humor. Much of it was
aimed at the club’s persistently losing record:
Q. Wanna hear a joke? A. The Washington Redskins.
Q. What’s the difference between O.J Simpson and the Redskins? OJ at least had a defense.
And so on. But bland humor gives way to sharp satire when the subject is the
team’s name. According to the leaders of several American Indian tribes, “Redskins” is
a demeaning, racist word, incompatible with their history and culture. So there have
been organized protests demanding the name be changed, and satirists have joined the
\charge. Thus The Onion, after roasting the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, for adamantly
refusing a name change, announced that he had relented. He would change the name to
the “D.C. Redskins.” On the other hand, a cartoon by Stilton Jarlsber brought “news
from the Great White Father”: When told that the Redskins were having to change
their “racially offensive name”, a tribal leader responded ”We in the Blackfoot tribe
were not offended.” “Actually, you have to change your name, too.” “Damn.”
The conflict intensified when television jesters took up the issue in 2014. In fact their satire itself became a subject of intense controversy. First, Stephen Colbert weighed in when Snyder announced that he was forming the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Colbert, in his role as a fearless right-wing commentator, announced he was creating the “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”. This provoked a firestorm of indignation and an Asian-American Cancel Colbert movement on Twitter.
Then a Jon Stewart program used a device previously much used by Sasha Baron Cohen – setting up interviews with people in situations that reveal their basic attitudes, especially when these are allegedly racist. Two groups were interviewed on the program. In one room a correspondent interviewed a group of American Indians who find the team’s name derisive. Separately a group of Redskin fans, wearing team sportswear, insist the name is a proud cultural tradition. (“If the Redskin name is changed and I have children one day, what will I pass on to them?”) Next the two groups were brought together, which the fans claim they had not expected, and a loud and angry exchange of words followed which, according to one female fan was so tense that “she left in tears and felt so threatened she later called the police.” Stewart explained: “If we find out that someone in a piece was intentionally misled or if their comments were intentionally misrepresented, we do not air that piece. So that being said, I hope you enjoy the following piece.” In fact, much of the confrontation was deleted.
Online media magazines commented on the affair. On MediaITE the Redskin fans were “ambushed”; Stewart should be sued for misrepresentation; and Dan Snyder, the fans, and indeed the American public (which polls show to be against the name change), should not be harassed in this fashion. The A.V.Club, on the other hand, reported that during a visit by the American Indians to a fans’ tailgating party (which was also deleted from the program) they were met with “outright hostility, intimidation, and threats of physical violence.” But after all, said the report sardonically, what else would you expect of the Redskin fans. “when a once-proud people, forced to change its traditional life style, is faced with extinction and buying a whole new set of football jerseys?”
Yet one more satirical TV programs focused on the issue. South Park, in its 2014 season opener, jumped on a decision by the Patent and Trademark Office ruling that the team’s name was too insulting to Native Americans to qualify for federal registration. Whereupon the show’s characters -- Eric Cartman and friends -- decide to launch a new business with the catchy name “The Washington Redskins”. The team logo is then repeatedly and obscenely defaced; and Cartman refuses Snyder’s repeated requests to stop using the team’s name. In fact, while the Redskin trade mark is still protected during appeals against the Patent Office decision, South Park as a satirical program is almost certainly protected under previous Supreme Court free speech rulings.
So Snyder and the fans will continue to refuse to change the team’s name, and satirists will continue to find this absurd. The public at large is not greatly amused by the satire. But this, in time, could change. Back in 1959 to 1961 the Resskins’ fight song, taken from “Jesus Loves Me”, included the line “fight for Old Dixie.” When this fell out of fashion (after all, this is the nation’s capital) the line was changed to “fight for ol’ D.C.” Perhaps another, more far-reaching, change is not inconceivable in time.