However, consider this. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “Redskin” is labeled “usually offensive.” Other words to which M-W appends that description are “kike,” “dago,” and “darky.” Let’s all imagine, for the sake of argument, that the journeyman coach Marshall wished to “honor” had had a mother of possible Jewish, Italian, or African descent. How long do you suppose the name Washington Kikes, Washington Dagoes, or Washington Darkies would have lasted?
Not long. But “Redskins” lasts only because white people don’t know it’s offensive and don’t particularly care to stop and think about how and why it might be. They don’t know that it refers to the scalps (and skulls and corpses) of Native Americans, butchered by bounty hunters and delivered by the wagon-full to collect their payments from local authorities who’d authorized the kills. This recent poll that 79 percent of Americans aren’t bothered by the team’s name doesn’t impress me. All it means is that 79 percent of Americans need a history lesson.
So, too, does a certain NFL owner. Dan Snyder is Jewish, by the way; if he can’t see the similarity between “Redskin” and “kike” or “Hebe,” then he’s got a dark spot on his soul that I sure can’t help cleanse. The sad thing is he has an opportunity to be a visionary here. He can embrace a future that is inevitable anyway and help settle some important historical accounts while doing so. He could say something like: “We all know that while George Preston Marshall did great things for this city and this franchise, his racial legacy is not something we can be proud of. The name Redskins is, alas, part of that legacy. I therefore have decided…” He could turn it into a contest, letting fans submit and vote for a new name. It could happen over two or three years, so people would have a chance to get used to it, work through the five stages of nickname grief. And I’m quite sure it has already dawned on him that he could one day be selling two different kinds of apparel.
Until that day, he and his team are a national embarrassment, an embarrassment that will only increase as time passes. Fail to the Redskins.