Friday, October 17, 2014

PANEL DISCUSSION: SHOULD THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS CHANGE THEIR NAME?

By: Connor Glowacki

photo courtesy of sports-logos-screensavers.com


     On the evening of October 13, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the University of Maryland College Park campus on one of the biggest hot-button issues existing in the NFL today. That issue, which has grown in awareness over the last few years, is of the Washington football team's nickname, 'Redskins'. Now while football enthusiasts only view the name 'Redskins' as simply the name of a football team, the term has long been used for Native Americans and is regarded among this community as a racial epithet.
Figure 1. Team Owner, Daniel Snyder
Photo courtesy of Slate.
     The attention for this name controversy has increased substantially in the mainstream media, just in the last year or so, that there are now parody episodes of this controversy on Comedy Central shows 'The Daily Show' and 'South Park'.
     In May 2013, in regards to a question regarding the team's federal trademarks, team owner Daniel Snyder told USA Today, "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER. You can use caps."

photo courtesy of diamondbackonline.com
     Opinions were sharp among the six person panel that featured USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, WUSA-TV sports commentator Dave Owens, ESPN 570/980 commentator Andy Pollin, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Ray Schoenke (1966-1975), and the founder of the organization 'Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry', Tara Houska.

Figure 2: Former Redskins Left Guard Ray Schonenke
Photo courtesy of mcbushalloffame.com
     Schoenke, the only panel member who argued to keep the 'Redskins' team name, is a Native Hawaiian who identified with Indian heritage and the Redskins name/logo because he wanted to be strong and to be a warrior.
     "If I thought the name was demeaning, I'd stand up about it. But I don't."
     He also explained that the controversy over the name should not be the major issue and that the focus should be directed towards the economic situation for Native Americans living on reservations.
     "There is the highest rate of suicide, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse, high school dropouts with 50-70 percent unemployment on reservations," said Schoenke, "Economic conditions will NOT change if the team changes the name. Through Snyder and the NFL, owners could make an impact on changing the economic situation."

Figure 3: Attorney Tara Houska
photo courtesy of law.umn.edu
     However, Schoenke was the only person that based his argument around economics. Houska, who works as an attorney and was the lone Native American on the panel, replied that the 'Redskins' team name and the fans dressing up as Native Americans during games showcases social and psychological problems.
     "You kind of wonder, 'Are you making fun of me? You're dressing up as my race'. It's so offensive and unfortunately, it's only unacceptable right now to Native Americans."
     Houska goes on to explain that children in the Native American community are shocked and saddened when they see people from other races dressing up as them during sporting competitions.
     "The benefit to changing the name is helping self esteem in Native American children."

     Snyder and several members of the Washington Redskins organization, including Schoenke, have conducted their own surveys and have visited several reservations to gauge if the nickname offends the Native Americans on those reservations. Schoenke stated that through interviewing an unspecified number of Native Americans at reservations, "I know a lot of Native Americans that don't care about the name. They care about economic development and economic diffusion."

     Back in September,  ESPN's 'Outside The Lines' conducted national polls on this topic. The poll found that 71 percent of the public believed the Washington Redskins team name should NOT be changed. However, this was a substantial drop from an Associated Press-GFK survey done earlier this year that found 83 percent favoring to keep the name. Houska warned that these national polls don't tell all sides of this issue. "Native Americans are only one percent of the population. National polls don't represent our views."

Figure 4: Washington Post Sports Columnist, Mike Wise
Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com 
     Wise agreed and stated, "You can't poll morality. It's a little frightening that polls dictate this issue. Why does the Native American population have to appeal to such a high threshold?"
     Brennan, who was the first woman to ever cover the Redskins for the Washington Post in 1985, immediately followed and stated that we should not make decisions based on polls, but more by looking at this through a historical prism.
     "I'm offended by it. It's wrong," said Brennan, "We couldn't have a new franchise start now with that name. It's an important historical view and cultural marker."
     Owens added that he'd like to really know what Native Americans thought and that we need to dig beneath the surface of just the raw numbers. Pollin chimed in and stated that the responsibility of the media is to keep talking about it.

Figure 5. USA Today Sports Columnist, Christine Brennan
Photo courtesy of spotlight.ccis.edu
     That brought in another dimension to this controversy, which would be the NFL's handling on this matter. Pollin believes that this growing incident ends up stemming down from a very weak commissioner, Roger Goodell, who can't get his hands on this issue.
     Brennan admitted that the reason the Redskins name issue might be losing some momentum in recent weeks and alluded to the domestic violence situations involving players such as Ray Rice and Greg Hardy among others.
     "The domestic violence story in the NFL could be the biggest sports story in history. That's been at the plate of Roger Goodell. With also the concussions issue, the Redskins issue is number three and falling fast. But at some point, it's going to change."

     During a questions and answer session where Schoenke revealed that Snyder is financially motivated by this issue and that he needs the name for value, a Native American audience member fired back at the former player.
     "We don't like blood money or bribes. White America has been brainwashed to think of Native Americans in a certain context." Another audience member also fired at Schoenke stating, "I don't want your money. I want your respect." A third audience member, an African American male, suggested that the rest of the audience, "watch any western film between 1920 and 1960. 'Redskin' was used as a derogatory term. That's how Hollywood presented it."

Figure 6. WUSA9 Sports Commentator, Dave Owens
Photo courtesy of wusa9.com
     The discussion ended with closing statements from all panelists and Schoenke again explained that with the NFL and Daniel Snyder's financial resources, they can improve living conditions on reservations.
     "The majority of sports fans don't care about a name change," said Schoenke, "What's troubling is the emphasis on the name change and how it won't positively impact reservations economically. This is a great opportunity to economically leverage because the NFL is powerful."
     Brennan countered Schoenke's financial argument as she replied, "Why wouldn't you want name change if you're Daniel Snyder, if you WANT to make money. Fans will want old memorabilia and then want to buy new stuff. They will make more money long term with a new name."
Figure 7. ESPN 570/980 Commentator, Andy Pollin
Photo courtesy of voices.washingtonpost.com
     Owens believes that this story is about a group of people who are trying to get powerful men to change and that they're not gonna do it.
     "Millionaires don't want to be told what to do. This economic issue is a smokescreen."

     Ironically, the day this panel occurred was on Columbus Day. A day where explorer Christopher Columbus is treated in high regard as the discoverer of 'The New World'. As Houska reminds us, Columbus actually massacred numerous natives when he and his crew first arrived in the Americas. In fact, he was accused of tyranny during his govern-ship in Hispaniola and was jailed for six weeks back in Spain.
     Meanwhile, Houska plans to keep on fighting this issue with other Native Americans.
     "It's interesting we're only in the mainstream media because of the mascot and that we're interrupting sports," Houska declared, "The reason we have gone after Washington is the cultural insensitivity is so obvious. So is Chief Wahoo.  We should have control over our own cultural identity and perspective."

     While there wasn't a resolution among the panel members and the audience after this debate, there was a better understanding on the various sides that this issue has showcased. And if one thing was proven at all, it was that more people are talking about this name controversy than ever before.


Do YOU think the Washington Redskins should change their name? Leave a comment below or tweet me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

4 comments:

  1. Great write-up Connor, it sounds like a fascinating panel! As a life-long Redskins fan, I can't imagine calling them by another name, but do think it will be changed sooner rather than later.

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  2. Thanks Megan! I still think they can keep the name, as long as the logo changes to a potato.

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  3. Great article! Very interesting read!

    -Ally

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