On Thursday, the National Museum of the Native American in Washington, D.C. is playing host to a conversation on “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports.”
Given the recent war of words and calls for a Redskins name change, the topic is apropos.
Last month, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, who feels the Redskins name is racist and patently offensive, sparked the latest row when he intimated Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III’s knee injury was linked to “bad karma” over the team’s name.
In a cliched montage, Milloy described RGIII as a “noble savage” who “goes on a ‘Redskins’ warpath only to leave a trail of tears when his wounded knee gets buried at FedEx Field.”
The next day, Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray injected himself into the conversation when he suggested a “name change” should be a precondition to negotiations if the Washington Redskins want to return to the District.
According to the Washington Post Gray stated, "I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington, there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about that.”
Gray further added, "I think it has become a lightning rod, and I would love to be able to sit down with the team … and see if a change should be made. There’s a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing.”
Since leaving Washington, D.C. in 1997, the Redskins have played at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.
Undoubtedly, the Redskins’ name is a political football. Native American groups and many others have long considered the name “offensive,” “insulting,” and “racially disparaging.”
In 2009, the Redskins won a legal victory after the Supreme Court dismissed a case relating to the name, originally filed in 1992 by Native American groups. The majority of fans, like team owner Dan Snyder, believe the name is an honorific title and should remain as is. Readers took to the Washington Post’s comment section in large numbers to express their support.
Perhaps today’s discussion will be constructive.
According to the Museum’s agenda, the symposium will “explore the mythology and psychology of sports stereotypes and mascots, and examine the retirement of ‘Native American’ sports references and collegiate efforts to revive them despite the NCAA’s policy against ‘hostile and abusive’ nicknames and symbols and engage in a spirited community conversation about the name and logo of the Washington, D.C., professional football team.”
Some see the move away from Native American mascots as a sign of “progressive thinking emerging” and diversity awareness in an ever evolving culture. Conversely, others believe it’s yet another example of faux outrage and an “Elizabeth Warren”-style of political correctness. The two sides may never agree on the issue, but a balanced and respectful dialogue today could inch the ball forward.