December 31, 2013 • Coaching

It’s Time to Cut Insensitive Team Nicknames

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder emphatically declared his franchise would never change its nickname, despite the outcry from a majority of our nation’s Native Americans. His position sends a dangerous message about the acceptance of racial epithets, and that message is amplified if it’s one we champion in our schools.

The debate over Native American nicknames in sports isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s one that’s quietly grown over the last few decades, only recently making national headlines. Most of the attention is focused on Snyder’s franchise, but it brings to light a much larger issue that must be addressed.

Our latest survey (results on page 8) shows that 68 percent of readers don’t believe Native American nicknames are insensitive. However, many people added that the name Redskins should be treated differently than names like Chiefs or Seminoles.

This discussion should not be taking place. Racist nicknames and mascots should have been left in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, but a number of people today stand firm in their support. There is no proud history or culture here, and to veil it as such showcases the ignorance that continues to thrive in this country.

I encourage everyone to read the latest report published by the National Congress of American Indians. It details the progress that’s been made over the years, but it also highlights the pain caused by racism and stereotypes. Snyder claims the Redskins name is honorable, but the report reminds us that the term derives from bounty hunters who tracked down Native Americans and killed them. The skins were used as proof so they could be paid.

What’s curious is Snyder, a man with no Native American background, somehow finds himself in a position to dictate what’s honorable to millions of people in this country. If they say it’s offensive, we should treat it as such.

I often hear supporters of the name claim they “know Native Americans who support it.” They may be right. According to surveys, nearly 20 percent of Native Americans say they’re impartial, so I suppose it’s possible that faulty argument makes sense to those who believe in minority rule.

But this editorial isn’t about professional teams. It’s about those at the high school and even college levels that continue to resist change. In the NFL or MLB, it’s about money and branding, but our educational institutions have a responsibility to teach tolerance and respect of our nation’s people. By starting a movement at our high schools, we can do just that.

At the very least, let’s be mindful of other peoples’ feelings. Florida State University still uses its Seminoles nickname and the University of Utah kept the Utes, but they reached out to local tribes to identify the proper way to pay tribute. You won’t find racist caricatures or ridiculous halftime ceremonies that offend millions of Americans because that’s not the message they want to send.

Change is never easy, but in this case it’s necessary. Our diversity is part of what makes this country so great, but it means nothing if we don’t appreciate and respect the vastly different cultures of our people. We’re responsible for doing everything in our power to make that possible.

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