With each passing Redskins season, it becomes more and more difficult to reassure myself that this will be our year. The year 2013, when the team last made it anywhere close to the playoffs, is beginning to sound like ancient history, as is the extinct hope of the now second-string quarterback Robert Griffin III pulling the team out of its perpetual rut. Still, this is the team I have grown up cheering for, and no matter how high the losses pile on, I will never lose the belief that it is not too late for a comeback season. Some pity my naïve refusal to accept defeat. Others, mostly Cowboys fans, laugh and throw embarrassing statistics in my face. Although these taunts continue to grow more discouraging and RG3 jerseys less abundant, there is something in my nature that will never let me give up my team.
As loyal of a fan as I may be, I cannot deny the sag of my shoulders and the heaviness of my steps as I head up to my room to mourn yet another loss on most Sunday afternoons. I also admit to feelings of jealousy as I watch Patriots and Broncos fans float through a season with a sense of security that I have never known in football. My beloved Redskins have proven to me all too many times that no matter how strong the lead may seem, there are always ways to lose it. By now, supporting this team may sound a bit bleak, but when the Redskins do win, these doubts and disappointments all disappear. Admittedly, these moments have been uncommon during these last few seasons, but when they do come, they are worth every sagging shoulder, sharp sigh, and stomped step.
In recent years, a much more significant problem has surrounded the Redskins; not about winning or losing, but about the offensive connotations of the franchise name. Unfortunately, my role as a Redskins fan has never taken me far enough to investigate this disagreement, so I initially formed little opinion on the matter. I knew how long this argument could last before anything came from it and how hard the change would be fought, so the idea of no more “Redskins” seemed to be a distant problem I would not face for years. It would be a difficult adjustment to cheer on a new name and wear different team gear, but these consequences were hardly drastic enough to me to merit a passionate response.
Still, as I considered what my official opinion would be, I decided that I was completely unqualified to form one. I had no sense of what repercussions might follow a name change, nor did I have any notion of how offensive “Redskins” is to the Native American population. So, I began an investigation in order to form an opinion on an issue I should have been more concerned with in the first place.
On one hand, I found that team owners, like Dan Snyder, have argued in the past that “after [over] 81 years, the team name ‘Redskins’ continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.” Those who support the name feel that it should not be viewed as a derogatory term, but rather as one of the ways that the team and its fans honor the Redskins Nation. Snyder also redefined the name entirely, saying “A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride,” in hopes of separating the term entirely from any negative nuances.
On the other hand, there are some who find both the mascot and the term “redskins” to be racially offensive to those of Native American descent. The word is said to define a group of people solely by the color of their skin, a concept this country has tried so desperately to leave behind for over 400 years. Ray Halbritter, leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, described a general feeling towards the term in saying, “Its origin is hated, use is hated, it was the name our people — that was used against our people when we were forced off our lands at gunpoint.”
So, although I may never feel fully qualified in claiming one side of this argument to be right or wrong, I now have a new understanding of why it exists. A stance in this conflict relies largely on what the the Redskins name means to each individual person. For example, supporters of the name, like Dan Snyder, see the name solely as it pertains to a football team. To them, it represents a long-standing support and respect for this team, a respect which should automatically transfer to the group the name represents. To me, the name means something similar because I do not associate the intentions behind it with racism or maliciousness. My personal opinion comes from the sense of pride and honor I feel for my team and the entire Redskins nation. However, having learned of only a fraction of the suffering endured by Native Americans, I hesitate to claim that this name represents honor and pride to everyone. It might be that solely those who experienced the struggle associated with their heritage are qualified to decide if this name is offensive or not, so I can only speak to the respect I hold for the name and hope that others feel the same way.
What is your opinion on the controversy?
Cover Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien