BILL WALSH COLUMN: Change the name, Mr. Snyder!
Tuesday, Dec. 31
As I read The Washington Post a few weeks ago, I was taken by two stories in the A section.
The first detailed Washington owner Dan Snyder’s ongoing effort to buy the Native American population in support of his stubbornness about the team’s nickname. Did I say buy? I meant win over.
The A-1 story talked about Snyder’s trips to visit Native American tribes to learn of the many needs these communities have, underscoring the whole while that he is not insensitive to the poverty and needs of these micro societies, and of his standing by to help ease them.
Provided, I assume, that the Native American community remains of many voices about the team name – some seeing it as an honorific, others, not so much -- and he can continue to get sufficient numbers of…redskins…to support his bull-headedness.
Is it clear where I stand on the team name?
The other article had to do with the anger of women in Britain who think that nation’s most popular newspaper, which routinely features unveiled female breasts on page 3, has been going down that road just about long enough.
Our own Mr. Snyder must think this a misguided cause, because as surely as the R word is protected by heritage, so, too, is turning women into sex objects, which The Sun has done for years.
Times change, as The Sun doesn’t seem to understand, and of which Mr. Snyder is equally unaware. The fact is, the term Redskin has a heritage, but it isn’t one of which we should all be proud.
I am obliged to turn to scholarship, specifically the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the gatekeeper of our language.
“Redskin,” according to the OED, which provides a chronological history of every word in the English language, “is first recorded in the late 17th century and was applied to the Algonquian peoples generally, but specifically to the Delaware (region in what is now southern New York State and New York City, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania).
"Redskin' referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint. In time, however, through a process that in linguistics is called pejoration, by which a neutral term acquires an unfavorable connotation or denotation, redskin lost its neutral, accurate descriptive sense and became a term of disparagement.”
That’s it. That is the official word, as much as Dan Snyder would wish it otherwise, and try to convince himself – and us – that it is so.
“Red man is first recorded in the early 17th century and was originally neutral in tone,” the OED reports. “Red Indian is first recorded in the early 19th century and was used by the British, far more than by Americans, to distinguish the Indians of the subcontinent from the Indians of the Americas. All three terms are dated or offensive. American Indian and Native American are now the standard umbrella terms. Of course, if it is possible or appropriate, one can also use specific tribal names (Cheyenne, Nez Percé, etc.).”
Mr. Snyder can make any argument he wants, but I’m going to side with the academics, who don’t have a dog in this fight.
The team for which we root has an offensive name. If you disagree, take it up with the OED. Knowing that, our continued use of the name has got to stop — if for no other reason than it makes it difficult to write this column without using the word, which I have tried to do all season.
The fact is, there are plenty of other and far more compelling reasons.
Spend the offseason sending your requests to Mr. Snyder. A better offensive line. A return to a 4-3 defensive front. Receivers who can get free and, yes, even catch. A new defensive backfield.
For sure, we need all that, as well as a new coach.
Given the evidence, coming up with a new name should be a no-brainer.
With great hesitation, I suggest that changes to the cheerleaders’ outfits are really unnecessary.
Heritage, I say, heritage.
Get Headlines Every Tuesday and Thursday By Email