New Orleans Saints defensive back, Champ Bailey, added his name to the growing number of people who want to see the Washington Redskins change their name.
Bailey told USA Today:
“When you hear a Native American say that ‘Redskins’ is degrading, it’s almost like the n-word for a black person. If they feel that way, then it’s not right. They are part of this country. It’s degrading to a certain race. Does it make sense to have the name?”
Three other teams, all at the collegiate level, didn’t think it made sense. They all dropped the name Redskins because of sensitivities associated with the word. The University of Utah was the first to do so in 1972. Miami University of Ohio and Southern Nazarene University followed in 1997 and 1998.
While a few high school team names still remain Redskins, the controversy centered on the word is mostly associated with the organization that drafted Bailey, the Washington Redskins.
That’s how I know the term Redskins, through football.
I’ve never heard the term Redskins used outside of this context. Now, that alone doesn’t prove the word is not offensive. But, in poll after poll the majority of the American public associates the term to football and football alone.
Even more polls found either indifference or strong support for the name amongst Native Americans.
In 2004, only 9 percent of Native Americans surveyed found the term Redskin offensive. Two years before that, Sports Illustrated conducted a similar poll. The results showed three out of four Native Americans didn’t think that team name distasteful.
These polls prove two things. One, there isn’t universal agreement over the term Redskin and whether or not it is offensive. Two, this debate has been going on for years and probably will continue for years to come.
Public pressure is building, though. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in last year saying, “if one person if offended, we have to listen.” Goodell stopped short of calling for a name change adding that, “ultimately it’s (team owner) Dan (Snyder’s) decision.”
Meanwhile, the National Congress of American Indians ran a commercial in select Americans cities during the NBA Finals in hopes of building momentum to get Snyder to change the team name.
The commercial listed a number of Native American tribes by name while pointing out their proud traditions. At the end the ad said, “Native Americans call themselves many things, the one thing they don’t …” the screen flashes to an image of the Washington Redskins helmet — meaning Native Americans never call themselves that. The problem I have with the ad is that I don’t think anyone else does either.
Words change meaning over time. “Awful” and “gay” have changed. It’s known as semantic change and is defined here as “the gradual shift in the conventional meaning of words, as people use them in new types of contexts and these usages become normal.”
That definition aligns with the way the word Redskins is used today.