by Rick Reilly
I guess this is where I’m supposed to fall in line and do what every other American sports writer is doing. I’m supposed to swear I won’t ever write the words “Washington Redskins” anymore because it’s racist and offensive and a slap in the face to all Native Americans who ever lived. Maybe it is.
I just don’t quite know how to tell my father-in-law, a Blackfeet Indian. He owns a steak restaurant on the reservation near Browning, Mont. He has a hard time seeing the slap-in-the-face part.
“The whole issue is so silly to me,” says Bob Burns, my wife’s father and a bundle holder in the Blackfeet tribe. “The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”
And I definitely don’t know how I’ll tell the athletes at Wellpinit (Wash.) High School — where the student body is 91.2 percent Native American — that the “Redskins” name they wear proudly across their chests is insulting them. Because they have no idea.
“I’ve talked to our students, our parents and our community about this and nobody finds any offense at all in it,” says Tim Ames, the superintendent of Wellpinit schools. “‘Redskins’ is not an insult to our kids. ‘Wagon burners’ is an insult. ‘Prairie n—–s’ is an insult. Those are very upsetting to our kids. But ‘Redskins’ is an honorable name we wear with pride. … In fact, I’d like to see somebody come up here and try to change it.”
Boy, you try to help some people …
And it’s not going to be easy telling the Kingston (Okla.) High School (57.7 percent Native American) Redskins that the name they’ve worn on their uniforms for 104 years has been a joke on them this whole time. Because they wear it with honor.
“We have two great tribes here,” says Kingston assistant school superintendent Ron Whipkey, “the Chicasaw and the Choctaw. And not one member of those tribes has ever come to me or our school with a complaint. It is a prideful thing to them.”
“It’s a name that honors the people,” says Kingston English teacher Brett Hayes, who is Choctaw. “The word ‘Oklahoma’ itself is Choctaw for ‘red people.’ The students here don’t want it changed. To them, it seems like it’s just people who have no connection with the Native American culture, people out there trying to draw attention to themselves.
“My kids are really afraid we’re going to lose the Redskin name. They say to me, ‘They’re not going to take it from us, are they, Dad?'”
Too late. White America has spoken. You aren’t offended, so we’ll be offended for you.
Same story with the Red Mesa (Ariz.) High School Redskins. They wear the name with fierce pride. They absolutely don’t see it as an insult. But what do they know? The student body is only 99.3 percent Native American.
And even though an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll found that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name, and even though linguists say the “redskins” word was first used by Native Americans themselves, and even though nobody on the Blackfeet side of my wife’s family has ever had someone insult them with the word “redskin,” it doesn’t matter. There’s no stopping a wave of PC-ness when it gets rolling.
I mean, when media stars like USA Today’s Christine Brennan, a white woman from Ohio, and Peter King, a white man from Massachusetts, have jumped on a people’s cause, there’s no going back.
Besides, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that if “even one person is offended” on this issue, we need to “listen.”
Got it. Guess we need to listen to people who are offended by the Kansas City Chiefs’ name, too. That’s one that offends my father-in-law. “You see some little guy wearing a headdress made of chicken feathers,” he says, “painting his face up, making a mockery of us. I hate that. Those are things you earn.”
One person? I know an atheist who is offended by religious names like the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There are people who who don’t think Ole Miss should be the Rebels. People who lost family to Hurricanes. There are people who think Wizards promotes paganism. Shall we listen to all of them?
I guess so.
Edmundo Macedo, vice president of ESPN’s Stats & Information group, told ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte that the term Redskins is abhorrent. “We would not accept anything similar as a team nickname if it were associated with any other ethnicity or any other race,” Macedo said.
Oh, yes, we would.
In fact, ESPN and many other media companies cover the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves without a single searing search of their social conscience.
Doesn’t matter. The 81-year-old Washington Redskins name is falling, and everybody better get out of the way. For the majority of Native Americans who don’t care, we’ll care for them. For the Native Americans who haven’t asked for help, we’re glad to give it to them.
Trust us. We know what’s best. We’ll take this away for your own good, and put up barriers that protect you from ever being harmed again.
Kind of like a reservation.
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Rick Reilly is an 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year and a columnist at ESPN.