Tumultuous, disastrous and embarrassing: Each word could be used to describe the drama and on-field antics surrounding the Washington Redskins football team this season. The NFL team’s season ended with a loss Dec. 29, bringing the team’s record to an embarrassing 3-13, and the team’s coach and several assistants were shown the door Dec. 30 as a direct result of the losing record, the team’s third one since former Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan took over.
Aside from the health of the team’s presumed franchise quarterback and his relationship with his now former coaches, one other issue took up time and ink leading up to the team’s total collapse mid-season: the debate surrounding the team’s name and whether it is offensive to American Indians.
In November, a group of community leaders, including the president of the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP, held a news conference citing concerns that the team name is offensive and urging residents to stop using it.
This past year was certainly not the first time this debate has come to the forefront, but team owner Dan Snyder poked the sleeping bear with a cattle prod by stating back in May to USA Today that, “We’ll never change the name. Never. You can use all caps.”
The team’s success last year and Snyder’s defiant statement poured napalm on the debate, and everyone with cursory knowledge of the team or the sport was weighing in with an opinion. It also gave much momentum to the Oneida Indian Nation, an activist group, leading to a face-to-face meeting between the organization of American Indians and head NFL executives.
While we agree with the die-hard fans that the name is not intended to be a derogatory term in its current use, there is a valid argument to be made that it does offend a race of people, regardless of intent. As with all discussions of race, it is hard to gauge the hurt a term causes another human being unless you are the one being insulted.
While we will not say at this time if the name should change, the Redskins’ organization should take smarter public relations moves and talk with the Oneida Nation. Snyder should make an effort to understand why a group of people — not his fan base that lines his pockets — are so passionate about the term. As the organization goes through yet another carousel of bringing in another coach and rebuilding the team for what seems like the hundredth time in recent years, it might be time for Snyder and the NFL to listen to this group of people and address their concerns rather than downright dismissing them. It’s almost guaranteed should anyone aside from the hard-core fan base get excited about the Redskins again, this will come back for debate. Let’s give it the attention and respect it deserves.