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Redskins nickname must go the way of Chief Noc-A-Homa

Indian activists and their supporters say the term ‘Redskins' is derogatory and demeaning.
by Berry Tramel Published: November 1, 2013

Demands continue for the Washington Redskins to change their name.

The Redskins part, though that Washington part doesn't exactly instill pride these days, either.

Franchise owner Daniel Snyder and his supporters say the term honors American Indians and is a beloved part of Washington culture.

Indian activists and their supporters say the term is derogatory and demeaning.

It's a long-standing debate. But sometimes, debates are too complicated. Sometimes, we outthink ourselves. Sometimes, you just have to go to the dictionary.

The definition of redskin? From the Random House dictionary: “a North American Indian, slang, often disparaging and offensive.” From the World English dictionary: “an old-fashioned informal name, now considered taboo.”

Is there anything unclear about those definitions? An NFL franchise uses a racial slur in its name, and yet here we sit, still talking about it.

This isn't Warriors. This isn't Braves. This isn't Chiefs or even Indians. You can stage a healthy discussion about those names.

But Redskins? How do you defend the name Redskins? Snyder seems to defend it by saying, that's always been the name and nobody can force us to change.

When I need insight into this issue, I generally call Jacob Tsotigh, my friend who works in Indian education at OU.

Tsotigh long ago taught me that individual names or words — Warriors, Braves, Chiefs — aren't as problematic as the imagery.

Lil' Red dancing on the OU sideline 50 years ago. Chief Noc-A-Homa, the now-defunct mascot of the Atlanta Braves. The tomahawk chop war chant of Florida State University.

But Redskin needs no imagery to offend. The word is offensive on its face.

“That word has a total negative representation, and the time is right for change,” Tsotigh said.

Chief. Brave. Warrior. Indian. We still use those words, in and out of athletics, in positive ways. But no one would dare use the word redskin in any context other than the D.C. football team or the mascot for asleep-at-the-wheel high schools like Capitol Hill, Tulsa Union and McLoud.

To whatever degree the word was acceptable in previous generations, it's not now. Not one decent person would use the word in non-sports conversation. Daniel Snyder wouldn't use the word.

Ray Halbritter, the point man for the Oneida Nation's protest against the NFL Redskins, told writer Joe Flood that league commissioner Roger Goodell should “come to our reservation, get up before everybody, families with children, and start out by saying how many cute little redskin children you see in the audience. Then try and tell us that you're honoring us with that name.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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