Home Social Justice Opinion: What’s in a name?

Opinion: What’s in a name?

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Bill James is not the sort of person who should necessarily be considered an expert on the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins name, but then again neither is the president, so it seems everyone’s opinion is necessary for this discussion. In typical Bill James style, the famously unfiltered baseball stat wizard spoke his mind without hesitation, saying “I suspect that it offends a group of 12 people who are in the business of finding things to be offended by.”

James has a very good point in that, on occasion, questions of what is and is not offensive are kindled and fanned primarily by people with little else to write about. For evidence of this, consider the fact that the name of Washington’s football team has been controversial for years and yet only recently have the BuzzFeed and Slate think-pieces emerged for prompt retweeting. But the fact that the Redskins controversy bandwagon has only belatedly (and possibly briefly) rolled into town does not change the core fact; the word “Redskin” is a racial slur and has no business representing an NFL team.

Ironically, the instinct to change the team name, and presumably pay more respect to Native Americans in the process, has produced some less-than-respectful responses. Take, for example, Marion “Mayor-for-Life” Barry, who supported the idea of a team name change by tweeting his theory that the poor performance of the Redskins this season is the result of some sort of ancient Indian curse.

Yes, nothing shows more respect for a culture than labeling all of them witches capable of transforming athletes into prairie animals.

Luckily, a series of well-crafted alternatives to the name have been suggested. The most popular name appears to be “Washington Warriors,” which is an interesting choice in that the word “Warrior” could easily allow for the retention of the Native American influences on the team’s logo and art. But look through the suggested logos for the Washington Warriors and you will find no depictions of Native Americans. Instead the name is represented by images of American soldiers, mostly white, and therein lies the problem.

Why choose a name like “Warrior” and represent that name only through depictions of modern white soldiers? Why can the Washington Warrior not be a Native American, when Indians fought alongside Continental soldiers during the Revolution and alongside US Marines during the second world war? Is there no way for a sports team to use Native American imagery in a truly respectful manner? Is there no other option than to say “in order to respect this culture, we will completely erase them from our minds, and then we will replace them with images of the military we once used to kill all of them.”

Surely there must be a middle ground between offense by depiction and respect by erasure. The name must go, but the discussion of how and why to do so and what to replace it with must be more measured and, ironically, respectful than it currently appears to be. It’s an interesting admonishment that those interested in political correctness must always remember: try to be respectful while being respectful.

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