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Some Thoughts on the WaPo’s ‘Redskins’ Poll

On Friday I said that at some point this week I’d be sharing my thoughts about The Washington Post’s “Redskins” poll results. Today is that day.

Before we dive in, let me remind everyone where I’ve stood on all this. While I’ve supported the movement to eliminate “Redskins” as a team name, that’s just one component of my larger concern about the use of Native American imagery in sports. “Redskins” and Chief Wahoo have been the low-hanging fruit for this movement, but I’ve also been opposed to the Braves’ tomahawk imagery, the Chiefs’ arrowhead imagery, and so on.

In addition, I’ve generally been in favor of a permission-based model. I’m fine with Florida State calling its teams the Seminoles, for example, because the Seminole tribe has given its permission for them to do so (and ditto for the Utah and the Utes, and CMU and the Chippewas). My reason for favoring the permission-based model is simple: I think Native imagery belongs to Natives and shouldn’t be used by non-Natives to sell stuff — not because the imagery is “offensive,” but because one of the first things we learn as children is that we shouldn’t use something that doesn’t belong to us.

With all of that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on the poll results. I apologize for the length — there was a lot to process here. For the sake of convenience, I’m going to occasionally use the terms “name-changers” (for people who have advocated changing the ’Skins name) and “name-keepers” (for those who’ve wanted the name retained).

1. I hear lots of name-changers dimissing the poll results by saying, “It’s just one poll.” True enough, but it’s one more than we had a week ago. For more than a decade now we’ve been saying that the 2004 Annenburg poll was out of date and that we needed new data in light of the renewed public debate on the topic. Well, we now have that new data, and it’s powerful. Is it the last word? No. But it can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed with a cavalier wave of the hand simply because it’s “just one poll.”

2. Many name-changers and Native American activists have attacked the poll’s credibility by questioning its methodology. Their biggest gripe is that more than half of the poll respondents were simply “self-identified” Native Americans rather than registered members of tribes. As Indian Culture Today writer Simon Moya-Smith noted:

Self-identification can include people whose evidence of indigenous parentage is based on rumors or family lore (think Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s claim that she is Native American) or those who are not Native American but claim to be Native American anyway (think Rachel Dolezal identifying herself as black, though she is incontrovertibly white).

Last June, the Pew Research Center found that half of all adults in the U.S. who claim to be multiracial self-identify as white and American Indian.

This argument may have some merit in a vacuum, but I don’t find it convincing regarding this poll. According to the Post, the results were remarkably consistent among tribal and non-tribal members (and among virtually every other demographic sub-grouping among the respondents). For example, on the question, “As a Native American, do you find that name [Redskins] offensive, or doesn’t it bother you?,” 90% of tribal members said it didn’t bother them; for non-tribal members, the number was also 90%.

Moreover, if the poll had only included tribal members, there would no doubt be people saying that non-tribals also deserved to be included. The reality is that there is no perfect sampling for any poll, especially for something like racial or ethnic identity. In this case, however, it appears that weighting the demographics one way or another would not have mattered, because the results were so consistent across the various demographic groups.

3. Many name-changers have also said that the poll ignores and flies in the face of psychological studies showing that the use of Native American mascots and team names like “Redskins” can have harmful effects on Native children. This strikes me as a more serious criticism. It would have been easy enough, for example, to include a question along the lines of, “If research showed that a team name like ‘Redskins’ is harmful to Native children, would that affect your opinion of the name?” (I’m sure a polling professional would tell me that this is not a good way to word such a question — no argument there. My point is that there should have been a way for the research on this subject to have been addressed in the poll.)

And even if the poll respondents had said they were untroubled by the research, then what? Should personal feelings trump scientific research about harmful effects on children?

Name-keepers are probably saying, “Hey, that’s just one study” or “Academic studies can show whatever you want them to show.” But of course the same thing can be said about public opinion polling.

4. For me, the single most surprising revelation in the poll was the response to the question, “If a NON-Native American person called you a Redskin, would you be personally offended, or not?” Overall, 80% of respondents said they would not be offended. Once again, the numbers were remarkably similar across all demographic breakdowns.

For name-changers, myself included, who’ve long said, “If you think there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘redskin,’ just try walking onto a reservation and saying that,” this poll data is a powerful rebuke. Granted, the 20% who would be offended shouldn’t be ignored (and I wouldn’t recommend actually walking onto a reservation giving “redskin” a test drive, since you’d still have a one-in-five chance of pissing somebody off), but I can’t imagine any name-changer thought that number would be so low. Language evolves, and this term appears to be evolving. Simply referring to “redskin” as “a dictionary-defined slur” — a talking point that many name-changers trotted out in response to the poll — feels willful in the face of this polling data. Remember, dictionary entries change over time, too, and this one may have to be revised if the overwhelming majority of Native Americans don’t have a problem with the word. (As a few writers have suggested, it may simply be that the inherently high profile of an NFL team has overwhelmed and outweighed any other context for the word “redskins.” When most people hear it, they now think of the football team, period.)

For the past several years I’ve declined to refer to the ’Skins by their full name. Will I now start using the full name? I’m not there yet, for reasons I’ll get to. Still, this poll question was a serious eye-opener.

5a. The poll question I just referred to was one of several questions that hinged on the word “offensive,” or “offended,” or some other permutation. Most of the media coverage of the poll has also focused on the term “offensive” (including the Post’s own news story announcing the poll results, which was headlined, “New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name”). I find this emphasis on “offended” to be disappointing. For one thing, “offensive” has been thrown around so much in recent years that the term has lost much of its meaning. Moreover, as noted above, my gripe about sports teams using Native imagery isn’t about “offensiveness” — it’s about the (mis)appropriation of cultural imagery by people it doesn’t belong to, which to me is the crux of the issue.

That leads us to…

5b. The poll did address the cultural imagery issue in one question: “Regardless of your opinion on the Redskins team name, how much, if at all, are you bothered by the use of Native American imagery in sports?” The results to this question were about the same as the “offensive” results — the overwhelming majority of respondents said they were not bothered by it.

That would seem to be that — except…

5c. In follow-up interviews, several poll respondents — including those who said they were not offended by “Redskins” — said they were very bothered by fans dressing up in Native headdresses and/or redface. (There was no poll question about that, unfortunately — a major omission.) To me, that constitutes a contradiction: How can you say you have no problem with teams using Native American imagery and then say you’re bothered when fans use that team imagery in precisely the way the fans of any other team would do?

I’m not calling these poll respondents hypocrites or intellectually inconsistent. Rather, I’m saying that the follow-up interviews suggest that they clearly do have problems with teams using Native imagery. For me, this gets at the heart of the issue: Wherever you stand on “Redskins” or Wahoo or any of the other stuff, I think the vast majority of us understand that non-Native fans shouldn’t be dressing up as Natives. Think about that: Fans of every other team are allowed to paint their faces and wear costumes honoring those teams — but not fans of the ’Skins, Indians, Braves, and the other Native-named teams. Doesn’t that tell you something? If you’d be embarrassed or ashamed to embody the team’s identity, doesn’t that mean there’s something wrong with the identity? That’s a big problem with these teams: They provide legitimacy and cover for behavior that we all know is indefensible.

6. A frequent talking point among name-keepers in recent years has been, “If you really care about Native Americans, give them jobs, lift them out of poverty — don’t worry about something like a football team name.” (My rejoinder has always been, “Why can’t we do both?” For example, I don’t just oppose the use of Native American imagery in sports — I also donate to Native charities.) That point was reinforced by some of the follow-up interviews with poll respondents. For example, there was this passage:

Rusty Whitworth [a Native American who said the ’Skins name “ain’t hurting nobody”], who has a GED and labors on a ranch despite back problems, said on the reservation there are few employers, poverty is ever present and children are going hungry. Rampant substance abuse, he said, is tearing apart families.

“We’re not taking care of our people, and I think that’s where the money should go,” he said of the campaign against Washington’s team. “Let’s start taking care of our people and quit worrying about names like Washington Redskins.”

This reminded me of something from five years ago, when I was working on an ESPN story about a 1964 minor league baseball team that wore a Confederate flag sleeve patch. In the course of my reporting for that story, I interviewed J.T. Johnson of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who was a field organizer for Martin Luther King during the 1960s. He told me that feelings about the Confederate flag were a lot different back then than they are now: “There was too much work to be done in the ’60s to be worried about a flag. Things like that never crossed our mind. The flag issue came much later.”

The message there is similar to the talking point about the ’Skins: Forget about symbols — we have real issues to deal with here.

On its face, that sounds reasonable. But symbols matter. And the reality is that the Confederate flag has remained a toxic and divisive element in American life for another half-century, and counting, providing cover for segregationists back then and white supremacists now. Maybe it should have been addressed as part of the civil rights movement. (Moreover, my job is writing about uniforms and logos — symbols. I can’t just ignore them because there are other, larger issues that also need to be addressed.)

And even if you think the “real” issues on the ground are more important than the symbols, that doesn’t mean the symbols have zero importance — it just means they’re not at the top of the priority list. That may mean the Native-based team identities will be dealt with eventually — but maybe not right now.

7. Another longtime name-keeper talking point has been, “We need to keep these team names and logos because otherwise it’s pretty much the only public exposure for Native American culture. Without the teams, Natives will be completely ignored!” I’ve never understood this argument, but sure enough, it came up in a follow-up interview with one of the poll respondents, a Cherokee woman named Gracie Olsen:

Growing up, Olesen said she was taught little about Native Americans in school and that the football team is making sure Indians are not forgotten.

“At least they’re acknowledging us,” she said. “We’re not even in the history books.”

It’s hard to know where to start with this. First and foremost, obviously, Native Americans are represented in history books and educational programs. But even if they weren’t, wouldn’t the solution be to improve the education? The idea that the plight of a marginalized group can be improved by naming a professional sports franchise after them seems absurd on its face. If you really believe in this, are you also ready to have teams with monikers like the Poor, the Handicapped, the Battered Wives, and the Opioid Addicts? I mean, I guess it would bring more attention to those groups, but I’ve gotta believe there’s a better way.

8. In response to the poll results, a lot of old arguments that we’ve dealt with many times before have resurfaced. I don’t feel like going through all of them again, but one that I find particularly disappointing is this:  “The poll just proves that only white people care about this issue.”

A few thoughts on that:

•  Based on the poll percentages and extrapolating via U.S. Census data, more than one million Native Americans care about this issue. They may be in the minority within the Native community, but you can’t just blithely ignore a million people and say they don’t exist.

• There are plenty of other non-whites who care about this issue (including the President of the United States).

• Even if most name-changers are white, here’s a new flash: Most name-keepers are white as well. If the former matters, does the latter? If not, why not?

• It’s true that most of the journalists who’ve declared themselves to be name-changers, myself included, are white. But that’s because most journalists — especially those who’ve reached the point in their careers where they’ve permitted to express opinions instead of just doing straight reporting — are white. Most journalists who declare a position on any issue are white. Is that a problem in the media industry? You bet. But it’s not an indictment of this movement per se.

• A whole lot of people who supported the 1960s civil rights movement were white. Are you really suggesting that their views were somehow invalid or unworthy because they weren’t black? Most readers of this website are male, but I’m pretty sure most of you support equal rights for women. And so on.

•  While I can’t speak for anyone else, I want to make it clear that my own involvement in this issue is not just about improving the lot of Native Americans (although that would certainly be nice). It’s about improving our world, period, and about right and wrong (or at least my conceptions of them). I don’t think it’s right for one ethnic group’s culture to be appropriated and sold by corporate sports franchises; I don’t think it’s right for a marginalized group to be reduced to a mascot.

So am I now going to start calling the ’Skins by their full name? No. Not because the name is “offensive,” and not because of the million-plus Native Americans who want it changed, but because it’s still the prominent symbol of something larger — something I don’t think is right. (And no, we’re not going to change our policy about not accepting membership card orders for Native-themed teams, either.)

If there are Native Americans out there in the Uni Watch readership who think I’m wrong — not just about “Redskins” per se, but about the larger issue — I’d love to hear from you. Everyone else is welcome to chime in as well, of course. As always, let’s please keep it civil.

I realize this is a charged topic. The plight of Native Americans is one of this country’s two original sins (the other, of course, being slavery), and it’s nearly impossible to discuss any aspect of it without inflaming people’s passions. I’ve tried hard today to write in a way that won’t do that. Thanks for listening.

Finally, if you want to read more, here are some additional stories that have surfaced since Friday:

•  Indian Country Today, which has strongly advocated for changing the ’Skins name, had this response to the poll results.

•  Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney, a committed name-changer and a longtime foe of Daniel Snyder, announced that he will no longer support changing the team’s name, although he will continue to avoid using it and will not wear any apparel featuring it.

•  The Post published an analysis of how the poll results might affect the pending ’Skins-related trademark litigation.

• The Post also published a good behind-the-scenes story about the increasing pressure that’s been brought to bear on the ’Skins and Snyder regarding the team’s name, and how that pressure was ratcheted up when President Obama weighed in on the topic in 2013.

•  The New York Times published a good piece about how language, including ethnic slurs like “redskin,” evolves over time.

Finally: Now it’s your turn, Cleveland Plain Dealer — let’s see a poll on Native Americans’ feelings about Chief Wahoo.

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Party reminder: Remember, Uni Watch party this Wednesday, May 25, 7pm, in the backyard of the Fourth Avenue Pub in Brooklyn, with special guest Chris Creamer of Chris is inviting his readers to join us, so maybe we’ll have some sort of smackdown between his crew and my crew. Come out and make me proud, people!

And while we’re at it: The following night — Thursday, May 26, 7pm — I’ll be a featured guest at this live “Talk Show” event, where the host will be interviewing me on the finer points of what it’s like to be a uniform reporter. It’s free — you should come.

Thursday is also an important date because it’s the 17th anniversary of the first Uni Watch column being published in The Village Voice. Happy almost-birthday to Uni Watch!

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Membership update: A bunch of new designs have been added to the membership card gallery (many of them featuring purple, like Brian Sales’s Northwestern football treatment, shown at right). These cards will be printed today and should mail out to enrollees in a day or two.

As always, you can order your own custom-designed membership card here, you can see all the cards we’ve designed so far here, and you can see how we produce the cards here.

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball News: Good eye by Jason Yellin, who noticed that the Mets have been using Rotex labels (also known as Dymo labels) on their racing stripe throwbacks, just as they did in 1986. … A few readers shared photos of a decal malfunction on a White Sox player’s helmet. … An auction house claims to be selling the jersey Bryce Harper wore during his infamous brawl with Jonathon Papelbon last year, but Harper claims he has it. … A Reds player needed emergency pants repair following Sunday’s game (from Jeff Walter). … According to the Mariners’ marketing department, this weekend marked the first time they’ve worn blue for three straight road games (from Trevor Milless). … Check out this awesome photo of the 1910 Pittsburg Base Ball Club from BSmile. So many sweaters! … Good stuff in this video of high school baseball at Ebbets Field circa 1956. “Striped stirrups, proper pant length, and one of the two teams has no numbers on their unis,” says Kenn Tomasch. … The Pensacola Blue Wahoos will become the Mullets on Thursday (via, fittingly, The Rally Mullet). … Lots of juicy stirrup action in college softball this weekend: Ohio State played along (from Mark Lindsay), as did Oklahoma State, Georgia (from Jeffrey Seals), and Utah (from Mike Barnhisel). The Utes also rocked tequila sunrise jerseys. (from Tyler Carlson). … Was a Louisiana Lafayette softball player wearing mechanics gloves during her at bat? (From JJ.)

Pro and College Football News: Texans rookie Will Fuller will apparently go RNOB this season. Is V the highest Roman numeral that’s ever been used on an NFL jersey? (from Casey McHugh). … J.J. Watt has a new personal logo (from Twitter user @svndrtywrds). … Spotted at a Bo Jackson signing event: a Royals-themed football helmet. All that’s missing is a Raiders baseball helmet (from Thomas Northcutt). … Take a look at this classic Steelers-themed hatchback car (from Lee Wilds). … New receiver gloves for Notre Dame football (from Warren J.).

Grab Bag: Here’s Premier League side West Brom’s new soccer kit for 2016-17 (from Tim Cross). … An interesting look at what went in to the branding for San Diego’s new AHL team. The bit about the team nickname and colors begins about halfway down the page. (from John Muir). … Here’s your chance to vote on NASCAR’s paint schemes of the week. … An early high school graduate and current Marine in Illinois was not allowed to participate in her class graduation ceremony because she wore her Marine Corps dress blues instead of a cap and gown, which violated the dress code for the event. … CBS News did a cool package on vintage matchbooks this weekend (from Barry Brite).

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Click to enlarge

What Paul did last night: In the late 1980s I got very into the New Zealand indie-rock scene, which featured a swath of spectacularly gifted pop bands that nobody in the States had ever heard of, most of them on the Flying Nun label — the Clean, the Bird Nest Roys, the Able Tasmans, Tall Dwarfs, the 3-D’s, the Verlaines, and a bunch more. Their records, which I first read about in fanzines starting in 1985 or ’86, were initially like unconfirmed rumors — you could read about them, but there was no way to get them. Eventually, though, some American distribution became available, and I sucked up those records like a sponge.

In 1993 some friends and I went to New Zealand, where we saw a lot of those bands (and scooped up a bunch of the records that hadn’t yet made it to American shores). Three years later I went back for NunFest, Flying Nun’s weeklong 15th-anniversary party, which featured a bunch of bands I hadn’t seen the first time around. Both trips were tremendous, life-altering experiences.

One of the earliest and most influential bands from that generation of musicians was the Chills, who played (and continue to play) a very shimmering form of pop. Somehow I didn’t see them on either of my trips to the other side of the world. Two decades later, I finally saw them last night here in Brooklyn, literally one block away from my house. Funny how those things work out.

They were really, really good — worth the wait! Here are some of my favorite songs of theirs, all of which they played last night (except the last one, which I wish they had played, but whaddaya gonna do).

Comments (134)

    Wow I’ve been gone a week and miss a huge update/clarification/notice to the NatAm argument. As someone from Mid-Michigan (and a pretty healthy supporter of CMU, Fire Up Chips!) I wholeheartedly agree with you. I place similar sentiment on the Native “intellectual property” and put people who think that “it’s just been this way so why not keep it” group into the same people who fly rebel flags on their trucks while they drink beers and avoid anybody with a tan.

    How exactly is imagery a possession? And, who defines ownership? The logical extension of this argument is absurdity. Does every depiction of the human form get appropriated to a specific race? Who gives the permission? And, who decides whom is eligible to grant it in the first place. Has the human race devolved that much?

    If we really want to improve the world, and promote right over wrong, it’s time to stop devising ways to divide mankind (particularly in a manner that is really meant to do nothing more than build constituencies for one’s political world view). I know it’s tempting for individuals to believe they are more sophisticated than most, but sometimes common sense and conventional wisdom don’t need the charity of intellectuals.

    Quick related question:I wound up with a Jackie Robinson replica jersey…a give-away at Dodger Stadium for Jackie Robinson day. I love the Brooklyn Dodgers, though was born after they left.

    Would it be considered cultural appropriation for a guy like me (whiter than Drew Carey) to wear said jersey? Does the Goodell rule apply here (if one person is offended, we have to have the conversation)? Or is the standard higher?

    Do I, as a white guy, have an obligation to relent anytime someone is offended or someone considers what I’m doing cultural appropriation?

    1) Again, I wish we could move away from the increasingly meaningless term “offended.”

    2) Jackie Robinson is an American hero. His legacy belongs to all of us, and wearing his jersey honors and celebrates all of us.

    I know of your aversion to the word offended, but I think that’s the word Goodell used. As such, it was the appropriate word in this context.

    To be honest, and clear, it feels like in some cases, though, that’s the standard to be applied. Insert the verb you want: offended, triggered, upset…I think some of the pushback comes from people over the Goodell standard–saying that any time anyone is affected, a serious discussion needs to be had.

    And for the record, I’m not saying this as a right-wing reactionary bastard (my status of bastard transcends politics). I actually do feel a little uncomfortable wearing the Robinson jersey–though I do love it.

    There are complex dimensions to this issue, as people try to navigate the line between free expression and being a schmuck. Perhaps a little uncertainty isn’t he worst thing in the world.

    No, simply wearing a Jackie Robinson jersey is fine, as anyone who wears a baseball jersey isn’t trying to look like the player they are wearing.

    The equivalent to what paul is saying is if you wore blackface with the Jackie Robinson jersey, then that is veeerry highly offensive and racist.

    So if blackface is racist, then why wouldn’t wearing a headdress and such, not be?

    If you love the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, I’d say absolutely wear it. If someone is offended by love and admiration, that’s their problem, not yours.

    In elementary school we did a ‘live book report’ on a person. The assignment was to dress as that person and be able to discuss the book you read.

    I chose one of my heroes Jackie Robinson and made a Dodgers Jersey, pants, cap and wore brown makeup on my face. At the time I didn’t think about it being right/wrong; my goal was to look like the person in question. Looking back on it I’m still not sure which side of the fence I fall in. If my kid came to me and wanted to do the same I’d probably not allow him/her to do so but only to avoid any issue that might arise, not because I’m so sure it should.

    The whole idea of dismissing anyone’s opinion on any topic based on their skin color or ancestry is just dangerous.

    “and CMU and the Chippewas”

    In this part of the world, CMU is the Tartans. No disrespect to the fine people of Central Michigan, but Carnegie Mellon’s not an obscure institution. Maybe neither should be CMU on first reference here.

    Depends on your region. For me CMU is Central Michigan and since they compete D-1 I’d give them prevalence for athletic abbreviation. For academic regions (along with website naming) Carnegie Melon (the more prestigious and selective school) wins for CMU

    This has always fascinated me. There are certain schools that have the national cache to use initials, even though other schools have the same initials. My alma mater, Bradley, is referred to locally as BU, yet when I hear BU spoken of in the broader conversation, I understand that Boston University is what is more than likely being referenced.

    USC is Southern Cal, not South Carolina. UT is Tennessee, IU is Indiana, etc. But… OSU could be Oregon State or Oklahoma State or Ohio State.

    I wonder if there are guidelines at a national outlet like ESPN that state when only initials are okay, or if something needs to be spelled out / stated in full before truncating to initials?

    In the ends, clarification up front is good policy.

    A lot of people hear UT, it’s Texas, not Tennessee.

    One I find interesting is that Michigan State just wears “State” on some of their jerseys.

    UT is Tennessee to me. Family and time spent in Kentucky gets that. In that area, I heard it all the time.

    I’m now less than 6 hours from the Texas border. No one around here says “UT” and means “Texas.” Just never hear it, and I come across a lot of Texans.

    Given that Texas is less than six hours from Memphis, I’m not sure about that metric.

    Yes, there are guidelines. Paul mentioned this on November 19, 2015, here:


    in a section called “Fun with AP Style.”

    funny you use BU as an example, I went to Boston University for grad school, but I’ve noticed when people say “BU” they’re usually referring to Baylor (unless they’re specifically discussing hockey). RG3 and Brittney Griner probably had something to do with that!

    While Paul brings up a comparison to the Civil Rights Movement in regards to the use of Native American imagery, I’m not sure that is the correct comparison (and may also reveal an error in methodology in the WaPo polling). While African Americans were (and arguably still are) relegated to second class status, we (White European settlers) engaged in genocide against the native peoples here.

    I apologize for the offensive but necessary comparisons: If clearly it would be inappropriate to have a New York Niggers basketball team how is it less bad to have the Washington Redskins? Isn’t that a bit like having the Munich Kikes as a soccer team?

    The facts are these: we killed millions and millions of native Americans and stole the entire continent from them. Regardless of what a poll says, wrong is wrong – and Redskins and arguably all Native American imagery for sports teams is wrong, inappropriate and most importantly, unnecessary.

    Yeah, usage of “we” is a bit much.

    My family didn’t come here until mid-1910s. “We” didn’t do anything regarding American Indian genocide.

    The usage of “we” is just fine and accurate. Even if your family only arrived in the 1910s, they were only able to come on the backs of those who cleared the path for them…..its sort of like the whole, “possessing stolen goods is just as bad as stealing” type laws. At some point, to really move forward, we have to acknowledge and accept our own bullshit.

    Well written piece Paul,

    However, I find your stance on Native imagery weird. A business has the right to use whatever cultural imagery they want to use. No single person or group owns rights to a culture.

    Would you have a problem with a white guy owning Mexican restaurants?

    Or a Chinese guy making a reggae album?

    They are both profiting off of another culture.

    Also the current Native Americans don’t have any claim to the tomahawk imagery. Current Native Americans don’t use tomahawks anymore why should they have a claim to that imagery.

    It would be like having to get approval from Greece to Spartan imagery.

    Look forward to hearing your response.

    In my town there are a couple of Chinese guys who own a Mexican take out joint. Cultural misappropriation or not, they make a frakking good burrito, and I drive right past Taco Bell to give them my business every single time.

    Are you really justifying this with trademark laws? lol. Only “Americans” will go somewhere, kill most of the people there, then hold the remaining people to the new rules they made up.

    To take it a step further, calling a team “spartans” is not the same as calling it whatever the slur is for a greek person. Additionally, I dont think the white guy is naming his Mexican restaurant “The Wetback grille”

    In response to 5C – I get where you’re coming from/going with the thought process, but it really feels like you are twisting the respondents’ opinions to fit your own. They clearly said they don’t mind the imagery and you found a way to say they do.

    I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say its okay for a team to be called the Redskins, but not for fans to dress up as caricatures of the culture.

    Most of us wouldn’t accept a Vikings fan in really violent/bloody imagery. I personally wouldn’t want a Padres fan to dress up in a Friar’s outfit. I also don’t appreciate the Saints fans who misappropriate catholic regalia. That doesn’t mean I have a problem with the team names or team use of the imagery (except Chief Wahoo, he needs to go).

    And doesn’t your acceptance of the Seminoles and Utes open the exact same door?

    This specific point is about personal responsibility – I don’t think we should hold teams accountable for fans taking things too far and being stupid. If you do, you should demand that teams stop serving alcohol since some fans drink too much and behave indefensibly.

    I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say its okay for a team to be called the Redskins, but not for fans to dress up as caricatures of the culture.

    I don’t think it’s hypocritical either — and I specifically said that.

    Correct – my mistake. You called it a contradiction, but I do not think it is a contradiction.

    We should separate team decisions/actions and irresponsible/indefensible fan reactions to those actions.

    Again – would you argue that all stadiums should stop selling beer since some fans are going to react irresponsibly/indefensibly to that situation/opportunity?

    Not to mention the recovering alcoholics who attend sporting events and may feel that their illness is being openly mocked.

    This was my feeling on 5C, as well. I agree wholeheartedly with Paul that not asking about fans dressing up was a huge omission. While my feelings on native names and imagery have softened (i.e., I still don’t love it but am not nearly as “against” most of it), every time I see someone decked out in 1950s-cartoon feathers/paint/etc. I just feel uncomfortable and embarrass for them.

    I don’t know what a poll would have told (hence, the belief that it was a key omission) but imagine if it would have been, say 60% that did not like fans doing that. Then at least we could tell “name-keepers” “OK, but stop acting like buffoons.”

    I also agree that “offended” may be a poor term nowadays. Culture now tells you that if you are offended you are a p***y and you should not be. Just because someone’s not offended by something (particularly when they are asked to verbalize whether or not they are) does not mean they are OK with it.

    From the time that I was five I was taught that if I took offense with something, it was my problem and mine alone. I take a grim view of the way some colleges are run, where everybody with a grievance is treated like some kind of rock star.

    “Culture now tells you that if you are offended you are a p***y and you should not be.”

    No, part of culture now tells people they should be offended by everything and another part of culture tells people to suck it up and stop taking personal offence to so many things.

    Glad to read your thoughts on this important topic, Paul. Thanks for spelling them out so clearly, and thanks for the stance you’ve taken.

    I’m totally OK with naming a team the Rural Poverty, as long as it raises awareness of what many children in underpopulated areas have to go through.

    I think I’m actually not kidding.

    I could take a shine to a team called the Dutchmen, in part because there is a wealth of iconic symbols associated with the country.

    The Bo Jackson Royals helmet really works well. Not sure all MLB teams would transfer so well. (I’m looking at you, Diamondbacks)

    That’s funny, because I’ve always thought the biggest problem with the Dbacks logos (the “A” and the snake head) is that they look like they belong on a football helmet instead of a baseball cap.

    Yeah, it’s probably either 10 percent or 67 percent:


    (I’m making a smartass joke only to illustrate the point that polling a few hundred people out of millions can produce wildly different results. But even if the truth is in between – 30? 40? – isn’t that too high?)

    To those who oppose these teams on the grounds of cultural misappropriation, I ask this: Should Elvis, Led Zeppelin, or Eminem be removed from radio station playlists for misappropriating black culture? If not, then what’s the difference? This country used to pride itself on being a melting pot. E Pluribus Unum, anyone? Taking things from other cultures and making them our own is kinda what we do, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The idea that only *these* people can do *this* thing sounds awfully similar to something we used to call segregation.

    Wow. That’s a powerful argument. Certainly, American Indians are curators of an appealing and popular mythology; one that is cherished by people of all cultures who study it. I would have guessed that they were anxious to share it. Perhaps when I was little, I naively thought it’s what they were doing with the NFL Redskins and Cleveland Indians.

    Maybe they were. Things have certainly changed since my childhood. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have practiced penmanship in a Big Chief Writing Tablet.

    “This country used to pride itself on being a melting pot. E Pluribus Unum, anyone? Taking things from other cultures and making them our own is kinda what we do, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

    Spot on. In fact, I would say it has been one of our gifts to the world. While there have certainly been many bumps along the road, and the concept is certainly not unique to this country, has any country ever combined SO MANY cultures to create a new and varied culture the way the US of A has?

    Some would argue that there isn’t ONE U.S. culture, and that’s the source of a lot of these disagreements.

    The US of the Hamptons and the US of Pine Ridge are fairly difficult to reconcile.

    In a lot of ways it’s more like a mosaic than a melting pot, but for the most part we get along reasonably well. There’s not a lot of beheadings or ethnic cleansing going on here.

    Which is why I said we have a varied culture. But we have elements running through all those cultures that are pretty unique.
    Where else could someone (regardless of class) eat Mexican, Chinese, and German cuisine, drive around in a European inspired car, listen to Caribbean inspired music, and wear Asian inspired clothes, and work alongside people of Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern descent, all in a single day? That mixed bag IS our culture.

    While Zep, the Stones, et. al., borrowed from black culture, it’s not quite a 1:1 comparison. They “borrowed” culture in order to make artistic statements (even if said statements were just pop songs). They took R&B and filtered it through their own voices. All art is theft in one way or another. The ‘Skins and Wahoo, on the other hand, offer no artistic statement, no permutation of idea. They exist solely for commercial enterprise. A better example would be the one listed above, of a white man owning a mexican restaurant.

    To call Taco Bell a Mexican Restaurant is an affront to anyone who has ever prepared Mexican food.

    If Whitey Whitington’s Mexican joint has better food than Mexican owned restaurants, then that’s where I’ll be eating.

    Seriously, we need to move beyond all this tribal nonsense and judge people based on their individual merits.

    A lot of early rock and roll was absolutely cultural appropriation. Much more direct than Elvis or Zeppelin.

    I’m not sure I totally grasp Paul’s stance on this, but that’s apples and oranges; you’re comparing work produced by individuals to how a corporation “brands” itself.
    I’m not Jamaican. Me playing in a reggae band is not inherently disrespectful to Jamaican culture. But if I own a car dealership, call it “Rasta Monsta Auto” and insist that my employees wear blackface and dreadlock wigs and end every sentence with “mon”, that would be. Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, and “ownership of imagery” seems like a vague concept, but the music analogy just doesn’t work.

    Dude, that sounds like the worst auto auto dealership ever. LOL.

    On the music front, I keep thinking about one of my favorite artists, the legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy. I’ve seen him live more times than I can count, but every single time his audience was almost exclusively white. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing, that’s just how it is. I wonder what kind of career he’d have if it weren’t for white people enjoying his very historically black music.

    Not to mention someone like Eric Clapton, who was VERY heavily influenced by BG. You could say he ripped him off, but in the end he turned a lot of white kids on to Buddy, myself included.

    Now, Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, ripped off lots of songs note for note with no attribution. Frak them.

    “But if I own a car dealership, call it “Rasta Monsta Auto” and insist that my employees wear blackface and dreadlock wigs and end every sentence with “mon”, that would be. Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, and “ownership of imagery” seems like a vague concept, but the music analogy just doesn’t work.”

    I’ve been a Skins fan for 40-some years and I can’t ever remember seeing players (the equivalent of the employees in your example) dressing up in warpaint, doing rain dances and saying “how” or some other stereotypical Native American expression. I understand the line where Chief Wahoo or Chief Nocahoma can be considered offensively cartoonish, but I don’t feel the same way about the image on the Skins helmet. And yeah, I’m not on board with how some of the fans dress, but I’m not sure how much of that behavior is the responsibility of the team. To me, that would be – to use your example – the equivalent of you having to give up playing in a perfectly respectable reggae band because some members of the audience wear deadlock wigs and end every sentence with “mon.”

    I don’t think you understand what “cultural misappropriation” is. A musician who plays music similar to someone who’s music he grew up listening too it not “culturally misappropriating” anything. They’re expressing their music in a way that is appropriate for them based upon their influences.

    The fact that those bands were popular because they’re white has more to do with people buying the records (or their parents) then the bands themselves.

    Andrew’s Jamaican car dealership analogy is spot on.

    How about Herman Cain founding a pizza chain and calling it Godfather’s Pizza? Misappropriation?

    I’m not as familiar with his background as I am with Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan. But if Vanilla Ice truly enjoyed hip-hop/rap and wanted to perform it, it’s not misappropriation. I don’t recall him ever claiming to be African-American, but I could be wrong. If he saw it as an opportunity to create a “white” version of “black” music to sell a ton of records, it could be considered “cultural misappropriation.”

    Now his appropriation of Queen’s “Under Pressure” is another story.

    The inherent contradictions in this issue continue. If valid psychological studies are showing cultural imagery harms Native American children why in the world are certain tribes selling the rights of said imagery across the country? From TV coverage to merchandise sales, the imagery is impossible to ignore. Something is either harmful or it isn’t, and this definitely applies to the group in question.

    And why in the world do some Native American schools call themselves Redskins in the first place? These schools have played public high schools, meaning this encourages non-Native Americans to use this term in a public setting. Where are the historical black schools which are using slurs as nicknames? Something is either a slur or it’s not. In a private setting, among small groups, certain words are used, but that’s not germane here.

    Third contradiction is the troubling absence of Native American representatives willing to step forward and answer questions. Yes, most of the media is white, but other marginalized groups always have a plethora of speakers willing to step forward. Either they can’t answer the questions or don’t feel they have the backing of a substantial number of Native Americans to effect change. I do know for a fact one of the few Native American speakers which has occasionally stepped forward failed miserably in her attempt to change Red Mesa High School’s nickname.

    “If valid psychological studies are showing cultural imagery harms Native American children why in the world are certain tribes selling the rights of said imagery across the country?”

    And why is Paul okay with it?

    Third contradiction is the troubling absence of Native American representatives willing to step forward and answer questions.

    Justified or not, I find this an upsetting situation. Perhaps Americans are used to self-appointed spokesmen offering unsolicited advice. In this instance, opinions various and sundry would be very much welcome. Conversations about race need to be blunt, but guileless.

    This, I think, sums up the issue the best in terms of why the name hasn’t been, and likely won’t be, changed; I’ve removed the parentheses because I think it’s far more important than a parenthetical aside would suggest:

    As a few writers have suggested, it may simply be that the inherently high profile of an NFL team has overwhelmed and outweighed any other context for the word “redskins.” When most people hear it, they now think of the football team, period.

    That’s pretty much why the name-changers lost the first round of trademark litigation back in the early ’90s. To most people, the word is not an ethic slur because they’ve never heard (or read) it used as such; most people have only ever heard or read the word as the name of a football team (or a potato).

    Personally, I think they should change the name and keep everything else (uniforms, logos, colors, &c.); I think the use of American Indian nomenclature, imagery, symbols, &c. is (a.) fine, and (b.) separate from the use of archaic enthic slurs like “redskin” or vaguely-racist caricatures like Chief Wahoo. And even though I think the latter two should go, it’s not something I feel so strongly about that I feel compelled to take any action to make it happen, or think the respective organizations should be authoritatively compelled to do it. If anyone wants to use economic and/or political pressure to nudge the respective organizations into doing the right thing, that’s fine. If there’s not enough economic and/or political pressure out there to make it happen, so be it.

    I’ve actually come to prefer the term “American Indian” over “Native American,” in part because I have read and been told that the former term is preferred among native peoples, and also because the terms are in fact precisely synonymous; viz., “indian” is derived from the Latin “indigen,” the root of the word “indigenous,” i.e., “indian” quite literally means “native.” (As most people know, the Columbus-thought-he-was-in-India narrative we’re all taught in second grade is apocryphal; for one thing, the nation situated on the Asian subcontinent was not even called ‘India’ by Europeans in 1492.) That said, I have no problem with using “Native American” to avoid confusion with the modern inhabitants of Mahatma Gandhi’s homeland.

    I find Florida State’s curatorship of the Seminoles’ iconography tacky and unworthy, regardless of the tribe’s blessing. The warrior on horseback with the flaming spear has nothing to to with Seminole Indians, who were farmers and collectors. It’s a special case, I realize, but the team’s (and it’s supporters) conduct on the field sullies the special relationship FSU has with the tribe. Thoughts?

    isn’t only the Seminole tribe of FL that agrees with the name(which i think they get a kick back from merchandise or some sort of payment), but the rest of the Seminole nation not agree with it’s usage

    I’ve always felt this way too. I have no idea what the “agreements” entail but I’ve wondered whether the tribe green lights things like this because FSU’s antics seem pretty tacky. Could they have any say in this type of thing? Or have the threat of taking their blessing away leaving FSU in a Sioux situation?

    I appreciate Paul’s stated reasons for believing as he does. Agree with them or not, he does a service by spelling them out, and by looking at the issue seriously. It seems only right to look closely at, and try to carefully tease out, my own stances and the reasons for them:

    #1: Paul’s admirably frank in IDing the Redskins and Chief Wahoo as “low-hanging fruit,” and that his objections apply in equal force to the Braves, Chiefs, etc. However, from this point no one should be derided for raising the “slippery slope” argument–it’s not a fallacy if the other guy explicitly SAYS he has his eyes on stuff that lies farther down the slope.

    So these things don’t happen in a vacuum: If I were the Redskins’ owner, I’d probably long ago have changed the team’s name absent any larger ideological context. However, the last thing I’d want to do is provide any precedent for the sort of downstream changes that Paul mentions.

    Also … how to put this gently? I’m sure that several of the most loudest voices clamoring for a nickname change belong to wonderful, thoughtful fellows who are an ornament to public discourse, beloved of their families, and a credit to their local Elks Club chapter. However, personal experience–which I realize counts as anecdotal–suggests that a lot of the most prominent opposition comprises people whom it would be irresponsible to defer to, or to give a taste of concrete achievement. Between the discomfiting coarseness of the Redskins nickname, and the risk of letting gormless dorm-room activists (of any age & station) think that they can effect their will at high levels, I choose the former. (Drat–so much for putting it gently.)

    #2: I understand Paul’s guiding premises, but respectfully reject the “permission-based model” and everything it implies. No tribe, ethnos, or country has ever OWNED its name or image; historically, others have always used the latter as they like, for better or worse. Not to pick on the Seminoles, but they don’t actually own their name. Do they object to its use without their permission? To that, there’s only one fitting answer that a free, adult human being can give: “Seminoles, Seminoles, Seminoles.”

    I partly blame that old fraud Edward Said, who hit on the trick of shortcutting abundantly-earned critique by dubbing any reference to a culture, on any terms but its own, inherently “imperialist.” Well, he’s dead. And I won’t play his game, or the games of any men or groups who think their names, images, or perception are proprietary tech that can be bestowed or revoked. And if we don’t play that game, then I don’t see where the principled objection is to Indian nicknames or imagery.

    However, personal experience—which I realize counts as anecdotal—suggests that a lot of the most prominent opposition comprises people whom it would be irresponsible to defer to, or to give a taste of concrete achievement. Between the discomfiting coarseness of the Redskins nickname, and the risk of letting gormless dorm-room activists (of any age & station) think that they can effect their will at high levels, I choose the former. (Drat—so much for putting it gently.)

    Sir, if you had a newsletter, I would be a subscriber!

    I’m on board with all of this but I especially want to point out that if I had a band, I would seriously consider naming it Gormless Dorm-Room Activists.


    Another splendid column reflecting deep thought, careful re-examination and well-chosen examples.

    Athletic teams take all kinds of liberties with their mascots. Locally, we have a minor league team benignly named the Bees. Because marketing folks believe ferocity should equal meanness, the bee is bulked up and looks on the verge of ‘roid rage. I’m not saying bees should be offended, but it’s a small example of a team taking X and exaggerating it.

    We have a long history of that. Fortunately, we also have a history of responsible people recognizing when a line has been crossed. Abe Pollin did exactly that with the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets. It’s too bad Daniel Snyder isn’t big enough to do the same. Redskins is a slur, pure and simple. No amount of polling changes that.

    Go back 60, 70 years and polls would have reflected broad acceptance of Jim Crow laws. Such approval doesn’t make it right.

    excluding “Redskins”, which IMHO is just racist, I’ve usually sided with the idea that a name for a sports team is a positive thing. You name a sports team something you admire and/or has traits that you want your team to have. Or I guess it could be bad-ass traits like Pirates or Raiders. Not sure why Native Americans are offended by a team being named after them? Should Scandinavians be offended by the Minnesota Vikings? Or Catholic Irish be offended by “Fighting Irish”, especially with a mascot being a fighting drunken leprechaun. But I also like the idea of FSU and Utah honoring the tribes by getting their approval. And lastly, if it offends the Native Americans, then change the name.

    Who says Notre Dame’s mascot is drunk? A leprechaun, certainly. Fighting, yes. But Drunken? He’s not carrying a mug, he looks quite steady, alert, and taut of body, and he is illustrated with none of the typical cartoon shorthand for intoxication.

    A team nicknamed the Drunken Gingers, now that would be an insult. But neither the name nor the mascot of Fighting Irish carries any connotation of stereotypical Irish drunkenness.

    (Personal anecdote: The Notre Dame leprechaun, with his hat and fisticuffs, makes me think of the songs “Clancy Lowered the Boom” and “Casey’s Hat.” When I was a boy, the priest at an uncle’s wedding on the Irish side of my family got quite smashed at the reception and wound up swaying atop the head table and leading the room in a round of those songs sort of slurred together. Pretty much every old American stereotype of the Irish right there – riotous drink, papism, lewdness and lack of decorum, the whole deal.)

    Been a busy day (Uni Watch boy mascot Tucker is sick, among other things), so I’m just parachuting in quickly to say that in addition to leprechaun not appearing to be drunk, the whole idea of “Fighting” is a common trope among sports teams in general and college athletics in particular: Fightin’ Phils, Fighting Ducks, Fightin’ Blue Hens, Fighting Illini, etc. I’ve never understood why ND’s leprechaun gets singled out as a potentially distasteful example when it’s actually just part of a fairly standard (and, frankly, boring) trope.

    Come on, Paul, I have a hard time believing that you’re not aware that one of the stereotypes of Irish-Americans is that they are hot-tempered and quick to brawl, especially after drinking…

    I don’t really think the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is meant to be a slur, but Notre Dame is not an Irish-American school, and by your own argument they should not be using Irish imagery as it doesn’t belong to them.

    Paul, I think this comment shows that you are actually more concerned with the offensiveness of NA imagery than the appropriation aspect of it. If you really felt that cultural appropriation was the true culprit, you could explain away the Spartans and Vikings as they have not existed for hundreds of years (not certain even that should make it OK by this standard but we can ignore that). Irish people are still around, and there are a lot of them in this country (more than are in Ireland I think). Even if we ignore the blatant stereotype of hot-headed fighting Irish people, this is still appropriation.

    Also, if we are going to insist in NA team names being changed I don’t see how literally every single argument against NA team names does not also apply to the ND mascot. I am pretty neutral in the whole Redskins thing – though I do feel the fact that there are native high schools that use this mascot to be problematic for the anti-Redskins crowd. But let’s at least apply the same standards to non NA themed team names.

    Paul – I know this is off-topic from the main post today, but do you think there’s any chance that some NBA teams will not add an advertising patch to its jersey?

    Based on the Sixers-Stub Hub stories, I’m assuming it’s a voluntary program and that each team is working directly with the advertiser to broker a deal. I know adding an ad means more money for the franchise/owner, but maybe some owners value the jersey without an ad patch more than a little extra cash? Just curious your thoughts.

    So according to the crux of your argument, should Boston basketball not be called the Celtics? That’s arguably Britains intellectual property is it not? Or am I missing something in the argument? If this is the case, where do we draw the line? Trojans, Spartans? Just because those are predominantly European/ white cultures? That’s just as wrong in the scheme of things.

    I would never call a Native American a redskin. Ever. That’s all I need to support my opinion.

    Great point! Also, the Redskins are like the Utah Jazz – the team name doesn’t reflect its location. The Nationals and Capitals are great names – wish the Redskins would go the same route.

    Horribly overpriced closet-sized apartments doesn’t really fit on a helmet.

    Thoughtful opinions all. Let me try to add to the discourse: I cannot vouch for the virtues (or lack thereof) of the people who attached these identities to these ballclubs. But once dispersed among the public, they are cast to the wind and given to the world. The fan ascribes a value to it and takes it to his or her heart. In this way, I own the Cleveland Indians or some fraction therof, and say fie upon the man who wishes to sully my relation with it.

    Just to offer an intellectual counterpoint (albeit an extreme one), if you legally purchased a work of art that was later found to have been looted in the past, and the heirs of the original owner made a claim on the art, would you return it? Can one ascribe ownership and value to a thing that was stolen to begin with? Not to claim right or wrong, just to promote another thread of thought.

    I think there does seem to be a difference of feeling that is brought about by the use of a cultural group that has been oppressed versus one that hasn’t.

    While the Trojans or Spartans may have suffered such travails, it’s not fresh enough in the history or well known enough to spark such feelings of injury.

    But if we were to use any other group where it feels like we’re objectifying or somehow making a mascot or caricature of their suffering (which, for me, Wahoo is the best example), I think, for me, that’s where we start sliding into tastelessness.

    Here in the UK there is a Premiership Rugby team called the Exeter Chiefs (link) their logo is a Native American and the fans wear headdresses and sing the Tomahawk Chop. They are not seen as controversial at all over here. But I was wondering how people across the pond feel about this? Do you think they should change their name? or does being in another country grant you immunity?

    Impressed with the reasonable replies thus far. It’s a complicated topic and far too nuanced to just say “PC” or “Racist.” And for the most part, people have not. Well done.

    I can remember when I first became a fan of the NFL back in the 1970s, I always wondered how Washington got away with calling their team the “Redskins”. It didn’t seem quite right to me as a kid/teenager and the arguments in favor of keeping the name never did either. Daniel Snyder could have been a hero (and made a lot of money in merch sales) if he had just changed the team name and been done with it.

    There are many who feel that Daniel Snyder could become a villain (and lose a lot of money in march sales) if he were to change the name and be done with it.

    Of all the reasons for or against the name change, making a lot of money in merchandise sales should not only be at the bottom of the list, it really ought to be left OFF the list.

    See this is where the argument falls apart for me. I, personally, do not like the term Redskin or Indian for a sports team. I don’t have a problem with Chief or Brave or Seminole. All that said, for this argument to turn into a license issue is a bit of a stretch. At what point do we say that every team name other than an animal is stepping on someone’s toes? The Yankees are named after a derogatory term for a colonial and much later a Regional individual. Yeah that’s a stretch but again, who decides that that’s where the line should be drawn?

    I think the safe thing to do is call the issue what it is, a not nice term for some people, and change it accordingly. To call this anything else is opening up too big a can of politically correct worms.

    Just to clarify, I brought up the Yankees as part of the license issue. I wasn’t saying they should be looked at as offensive or derogatory.

    Native Americans were victims of government-sanctioned forced removal and genocide in this country. To say “why don’t we talk about other people/animals/etc” sidesteps the fact that the argument in question certainly is valid for Native American naming/imagery, for which this topic is specifically being debated. I don’t see how it can be debated which “side of the line” Native Americans fall under, no matter where anyone “draws the line.”

    I understand your point, but the article was more in favor of arguing the “ownership of the property” angle, and that’s what I’m having a hard time getting behind. What happened to the native population on this continent was, in my opinion, unfortunate and regrettable. I can’t sit where I’m at and say sorry, because I didn’t have any bearing on what happened, nor did 100% of the people reading this. I’m sure the native population did some not so nice things to the settlers and again, I can’t say anything substantial because none of that happened to me. On and on that argument can go.

    To say that THIS group of people or THAT group of people deserves special treatment of their intellectual property because bad things happened to them centuries ago Can be expanded to every group of people on the planet. Who can say that because Irish immigrants were not treated the same as native Americans that they suffered any less? You and I may say there’s a big difference between not finding work and being driven out of your home, but my point is that it’s not up to you or me to draw that line. This argument as constructed will always find the next team name that we should change.

    Bottom line for me, change the names because they are offensive.

    I think the whole concept of one group of people deciding that another group of people need “protection” is pandering at best and patronizing and insulting at worst.

    > I’m saying that the follow-up interviews suggest that they clearly do have problems with teams using Native imagery

    I’m not sure that indicates a problem with teams using native imagery, but rather with fans using Native imagery incorrectly. That’s why blessed uses like Osceola at Florida State get the OK, while the FSU student government asked fans to stop wearing headdresses (which Seminoles do not wear).


    Another very interesting and well-written take on this issue. Frankly, for me personally, I couldn’t give three
    f%$&ks about what a damn poll says. Polls mean nothing to me, and are, in my opinion, of questionable relevance. Let’s face it, polls, much like some “scientific studies” can easily be manipulated to say what someone wants it to say. And I sure as hell am not going to be persuaded to change my own opinion on something just because poll results differ from what I believe.

    I still believe that “Redskins” is an offensive slur, just like I believe Wahoo needs to go. Period. Both are just plain wrong.

    Very well-written Paul. The poll-results did come as a surprise to me, and I must say did make me think about my stance on the issue.However, at the end of the day I still think the Redskins name is wrong. While the word’s use as a slur has lessened, it is still a slur. Just my opinion obviously.

    – A whole lot of people who supported the 1960s civil rights movement were white. Are you really suggesting that their views were somehow invalid or unworthy because they weren’t black? Most readers of this website are male, but I’m pretty sure most of you support equal rights for women. And so on.

    Sure, but the poll points out the fundamental difference. Practically all blacks under segregation believed they were oppressed. Most women are feminists (in the word’s traditional sense). Not the case for this issue.


    Very thoughtful and well put together.

    I appreciate that the column is as a writer on “athletic aesthetics” and not on culture as a whole. From that perspective no one should question why you write on this topic as you do. If you were a columnist on an op-ed section of a paper/website then you would be more open to write a more open piece regarding the race topic as a whole.

    However, we all try to do what we can, where we can, and as much as we can. I feel that you have hit the ceiling with what you can do in your position without overstepping your boundaries. If you veer from the “uniform” aspect of the column, readers will possibly stop reading. If more people would do as much as they could within their positions to help people, to right wrongs, and to end hatred, we would live in a better world.

    Thank you Paul.

    (Can we see some of the “whiteskin” logo again”?)

    Since when do we need a poll to tell us the Washington football team’s name is derogatory? Same with the Cleveland baseball team’s logo and name. I think Paul makes a good point that if the team or school is using a tribal name with permission from that particular tribe, well then it’s okay. But terms like “Indian” (and other variants) have always been a slur, even before organized sports.

    My biggest gripe is it seems every former “Redskin” team is now called the “Redhawks”… Can we please get a little more creative with this!

    If one of these teams renamed themselves the “Red Army” and surrounded themselves with Soviet style imagery, I’d buy their gear. It’d be especially hilarious for a Washington team.

    To clarify, without permission, you find that teams shouldn’t use their likeness as they don’t own it. Should that be said for teams such as the Cowboys. Should they have to get permission from Ranchers to use their namesake? What about Padres, Vikings, Patriots? And so on? If ownership is the issue, than any team with a human element should seek permission to use name, likeness, etc.


    (And no, we’re not going to lift change our policy about not accepting membership card orders for Native-themed teams, either.)

    “lift change”?

    Very thoughtful and well executed commentary (as always). Thank you!

    The only reason there is even a debate is that indians are seen as somehow less (or more) than human. They are part of the mythological west, the savage enemy, the noble brave, the comic relief drunk and, yes, the sports mascot. Always a stereotype, never a people.

    Excellent point re: these nicknames legitimizing behavior that would otherwise (hopefully) be seen as reprehensible.

    My other thought re: the poll was, okay, so not as many people are offended as we perhaps previously thought, but should we really be concerned with breaking, say, 50%? Twenty percent is a still a sizable chunk of people. Based on 2010 census data, there’s over 5m people who reported as either 100% or mixed-race Native American (excellent points re: Elizabeth Warren & Rachel Dolezal, btw), so we’re still talking about 1 million people, plus a decent number of non-Native peoples who don’t care for the term. What other nicknames in pro or college sports are that divisive (other thank Yankees or Cowboys, of course)?
    And, to “name-keepers,” is there a percentage of offended Natives that would make you change your mind? More than half? 100%?

    Also, as to the point regarding education, there’s no question many textbooks need overhauling. I’ve read a couple books that have touched on the matter in recent years: ‘1491’ by Mann, ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ by Loewen. As best as I can recall, the former notes that a lot of what we thought we knew about the peoples in the pre-Columbian western hemisphere is incorrect. They were more “advanced/civilized” than we thought, and also more numerous, for starters.
    The latter book points out that elementary & secondary history textbooks, while receiving new editions on a regular basis with names of prominent scholars attached, are regularly copied & pasted from previous editions of other textbooks, and done so not by the PhD’s with their names on the book but some low-level employees in the publishing companies. Moreover, with respect to this particular topic, the atrocities committed by Europeans are glossed over, and a bigger deal is made of the first Thanksgiving, which is a whole other story of misrepresentation.

    America was built upon the decimation, genocide, and railroading (literally) of Native Americans, including stealing and taking their land which they had first. The argument that the culture that exists here (American culture including its sports), in large part because it destroyed theirs, should not then dance upon that historical wrong by appropriating its imagery is a moral one, not a property, compensation, or permissive agreement one. There is no other straight line comparison with comparable circumstances.

    Ask the Red Mesa High School on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. They proudly use the nickname Redskins and the Navajos all know it. They have for decades.

    I work for a company that employs parents of students at this school. I have spoken to several of them about it. They overwhelmingly like the Redskins name as native Americans.

    And the point about Cowboys (offending ranchers), Padres (offending priests?), Vikings (offending Scandinavians). That’s true if you want to carry this argument to a logical conclusion.

    Paul’s keystrokes are much better spent on other topics like stripes and colors and patterns on sports gear.

    So glad you got to see The Chills. Awesome show. What did you think of the Railway Children? They’re a huge favorite of mine, I saw them once back in the 80s, and it was a thrill that they reunited. I enjoyed Even As We Speak, too. Popfest is a great event.

    Hi Paul, travel question: you said above you took a trip to New Zealand; how was that trip and what is that country like? Any comparison(s) to any part of US you’ve been to in terms of landscape? I’ve always wanted to travel to NZ and Australia at some point. Just wondering what you thought.

    I think you hit the nail on the head as soon as you mention education. The majority of “reservations” as they are called (I hold a different opinion of them, which you can probably guess without me saying what I would actually call them, but it isn’t good and I don’t mean that offensively) are facing immense poverty, lack of proper education and with little to nothing in the way of job prospects. If the majority of the population on reservations are not properly educated (and I’m not saying no one on a reservation is educated or that Native Americans in general are “ignorant” or any of those things), then how would they even know the context with which “Redskin” was originally used? Even as a white child and young adult, I had no clue it was a racial slur, which from my understanding now, is on the same level as the “N” word.

    Now, the argument by most white people about THAT word is “Well if they can use it why can’t I use it?”. And those people again, being uneducated or ignorant, don’t understand that African-Americans APPROPRIATED that disgusting word, dropped the “R” from the end of it and used it as a term of endearment for THEMSELVES as a way to combat the original slur itself. So then we could assume, as this battle over the word “Redskin” as a slur or not, could lead to the same response: “Well if they can use it, why can’t I?” and again, if Native American people choose to use it in reference to each other as a term of endearment, then that’s up to them but it doesn’t give everyone the right to use the word.

    I have to give you props though for pointing out something most of us wouldn’t have caught: Fans always dress up ridiculously to represent their team, either painting their faces or dressing as a mascot but there is an obvious problem with dressing up as the mascot of the sports teams that appropriate Native-American imagery and that should say all that needs to be said about how wrong the use of the word, let alone the imagery is.

    Furthermore, some might also say “Well the Redskin logo isn’t offensive like the Cleveland Indians’ logo since it isn’t a racist caricature but a realistic profile of a realistic looking Native-American” or “Well what’s offensive about a tomahawk or an arrow-head?” but again, they miss the point as you have pointed out. Those images are not from white history or lore and are not ours to decide on what their uses should be unless given permission, and even then that’s still not good enough in some cases.

    At the end of the day, I support you stance and your ongoing narration on the subject. But my only question is how you force a sports team to then re-brand itself? Not that I don’t think they should have to, but exactly how do you completely re-brand decades old names and logos?

    I don’t know of a higher RNOB than V in the NFL, but there was an LIV in pro hockey. I don’t know if that counts, though, because his name was Stefan Liv.

    Superb overview by Paul on the Redskins issue, and in contrast to just about every other site in existence, there’s not the usual huge dropoff into stupidity and invective in the comments. Far from it; I found myself engaged with everyone’s contributions, which as far as I saw advance the discussion rather than recycling some half-remembered dogma or going nuclear with ad hominems. I wonder if the common foundation of a fairly esoteric shared interest like sports uniforms and related design issues somehow engenders civility? In any event, this site is a small, quiet island of civility, but not at the expense of wit, rigor, or candor.

    As always, Paul’s argument against the Redskins, et al, is quite articulate and well thought-out.

    However, I would like to point out one major problem with it.

    Paul claims that his general feeling that Native American imagery should not be used by sports teams because the imagery “belongs” to them, and not us. (Fair enough, although it’s not exactly clear why people of Indian heritage are not part of the “us” that watch sports.)

    Later, however, he carves out an exception, saying that in cases such as the Florida State Seminoles where permission is granted, then use of Indian imagery by sports teams is acceptable.

    However, since polls appear to pretty conclusively show that the significant majority of American Indians don’t have a problem with “Redskins” and presumably Braves, Chiefs, etc, doesn’t that qualify as at least a passive form of permission?

    And if not, then exactly what would be required to satisfy Paul’s (or anybody else’s) conditions for said permission?

    Good writing. Interesting poll. I wonder if there would be any differences if the team were based in an area that was highly populated with Native Americans like in Arizona (were Im at now) or Utah etc

    Sometimes I wonder if people in the Western US have a better understanding of Native Americans issues than their Eastern counterparts…….because Native Americans are not some far off community but actually part of the community. Not judging just wondering.

    That being said Id tell Snyder to change the name to something like a local tribe who would be interested in giving him their blessing or just something less skin color based……He would earn a ton of money from sales of the new gear and also goodwill……But what do I know I don’t have the money to buy a NFL team haha

    I went to college at North Dakota State at the time the Sioux name became an issue at the University of North Dakota. I just remembered this morning reading articles asking the North Dakota Native Americans what they thought about the Sioux nickname, and a lot of the objection was not so much to how UND handled the name and imagery as much as how opposing schools such as NDSU used it.

    It kind of links back to the article as how Native Americans can be okay with a team using their imagery as a logo, while objecting to how other people treat that logo.

    Paul –

    1st of all. Respect the hell out of you for taking the time to write it out, and acknowledging those who you don’t agree with, but not in a nasty way.

    Something that stands out is that Native Americans seem to be saying to Ms. Harjo and Blackhorse that their priorities aren’t the same. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but it seems that the pro-name change folks aren’t focusing enough to what is important to the majority, and that’s the issue. So, it’s well and good to say you can address both at the same time. You have the Yellow Brick Road Casino in NY and history shows what L. Frank Baum thought of Native Americans.

    Maybe its not that they are dumb and don’t know their history. Or that they aren’t true Native Americans (which is the most pathetic and insulting reply after the poll). It’s that with sports the past 100+ years, the meaning of words have changed. So, while we can say that nobody would go call a Redskin or Brave to their faces. Why aren’t folks like Ms. Harjo and Blackhorse going to the reservations and convincing those they represent why they should be offended? Go to Red Mesa and convince the Native American teachers, students, families that calling themselves the Redskins…is wrong. That is where they should have started decades ago.

    Now Native Americans embrace the culture of these names and logos on uniforms and Mike Wise or Peter King or Bob Costas are insulting them by pretending to be personally offended themselves now. Or I guess offended by them/for them.

    Watching the Kentucky Derby on TV, I noticed the trumpeter’s fingers not moving when he played the call to post. I am assuming this was pre-recorded also.

    That particular piece of music can be played without pressing any of the valves on a trumpet – the musician can do it all by changing the way he blows into the instrument.

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