Friday, February 14, 2014

Guard the Post: It is time, Washington, for a name change

The University of North Dakota changed their name from the Fighting Sioux in 2012. This was the first major Division-I institution to change their mascot in response to issues regarding the names association with American Indians. There are countless other universities and professional sports teams whose names have caused disagreement, but none more than the Washington Redskins.

"Redskin" is defined as an offensive term for American Indian, and was first recorded as a nickname used to slander Native Americans in the late 17th Century by settlers in the northeastern United States.

In 1997, Miami University of Ohio changed its name from Redskins to Redhawks; before that, the University of Utah changed their nickname (unofficial) from Redskins to Utes (which is another issue). Miami and Utah changed their name after a small amount of concern from people in their community's and across the country. The Washington Redskins management has done nothing proactive about its use of a racial slur, even after THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Barack Obama, weighed in.

This came after national attention was placed on a football crazed high school in Langhorne, Pennsylvania in November on 2013. Neshaminy High School, a local football powerhouse, finished their 2013 campaign with a 13-2 record, losing in the semi-finals of the PIAA Class AAAA State Championships to St. Joes Prep. This success was not why former ESPN Anchor Keith Olberman mentioned them on his show.

In fact, Olberman spoke at length about Neshaminy HS during his segment called "Worlds Worst Person in Sports", specifically giving that title to High School Principal Robert McGhee and School Board President Richie Webb. McGhee and Webb told the editorial board of the school newspaper entitled the "Playwickian" that they must allow the term Redskin to be printed in their paper, despite their weeks of work debating the use of the term they find to be "racist in nature". The passive protest from the school paper was squashed by school administration who continue to allow the use of this racial slur for their sport program. (Read all the stuff on this story. The students really showed up the administration. Their writing and reasoning were much better than the Principal and School Board)

The Washington Redskin ownership, headed by Dan Snyder, continue to stick by claims that "80-90%" of American Native Americans do not find this name offensive; supporting that statement with a study that reported that "only 80 native Americans questioned found the term offensive". As mentioned before, President Obama stated that any term used in the public eye that offends "a sizeable group of people" should probably be changed. Not only is this term used in the public, it is the largest professional sport franchise associated with our nations capital.

Other DC inhabitants took a shot at Snyder and the Redskins organization this week. Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington , chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Representative Tom Cole from Oklahoma, a member of the Chickasaw nation, co-penned a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling for the name change to be discussed beyond the Redskin's Landover, MD offices. In fact, the senator and congressman, threatened to bring this issue to the floor of the Legislative Branch for a discussion at a national level, and to discuss the NFL's non-profit status. (We all know the shams of large sporting bodies non-profit statuses *cough* NCAA *cough* *cough* NCAA *cough*) Why should this organization receive non-profit benefits when they are perpetuating a racist slur every Sunday afternoon in our nations capital?

Why is the Principal of a public high school instructing his students that they MUST write a racial slur in their school newspaper? Why do elected public officials have to spend time on the name of a sports organization? Why is this issue so clear to me and hundreds of others in the sport industry, including an editorial board of high school students in suburban Philadelphia, but not to ownership and management of an NFL Franchise? Why, as a society, are we bolstering the use of the term Redskin in national media, on hundreds of billboards, and on thousands of t-shirts and jerseys?

It is time, Washington. No longer should we be using a name that has been associated with negativity among a notable portion of our population; a portion which lived on this land before football ruled our society. Below is an incredible advertisement released by the National Congress of American Indians.

American Indians are damned proud of their heritage and who they are. Why, in the most progressive American society ever, are we allowing this nickname to stand?


Kevin Murray is a Pre-Junior Sport Management Major at Drexel University, originally from Havertown, PA. He worked in the Drexel Sport Management Department as a Research Assistant focusing on the Penn State scandal, equity in collegiate sports, and Title IX.  He completed his first co-op last spring with Drexel Athletics External Relations Department, where he still works part-time. He is currently a Resident Assistant in University Crossings, a member of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, and Vice President of SMTSU.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinj_murray.

Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.

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