Will Pembroke is a first-year Philosophy, Politics and the Public major. He is an intern for the Newswire from Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Sports have become one of the most important means for social change in our society, whether you like it or not.
Criminal justice reform has been at the forefront of both the NBA and NFL for years now. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a national controversy when he knelt for the national anthem prior to the start of a game in 2016. We’ve seen more and more NFL players join him in standing against police injustices by protesting the anthem. In the NBA, players have worn t-shirts in pre-game warmups to signify their protest of the systemic racism we have in the United States today. On top of these in-game examples, athletes have used their platforms to bring attention to the issues they are passionate about in spades.
While all of this social justice work is important and will go a long way in America’s continuous fight for equality, there is one burning issue that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves.
The term “redskin” has historically been used as a derogatory term against Native Americans. The first documented use came in the late 18th century in colonial America. The phrase takes aim, albeit inaccurate in nature, at the skin color of Native Americans. European settlers often used the word as a means of slandering the group of people whom they fought for control of the precious colonial land they desired.
An apt comparison for the term redskin would be the historically degrading phrase stemming from the Latin word “niger,” as was adapted in the 18th century English language as a term to derogatorily describe a Black person. This phrase is entirely unacceptable to be used in American society today, so much so that I cannot even say it in this piece.
Both terms use skin color as a derogatory method to attack groups of people in a deliberately racist way, yet the phrase redskin is still used in a major way today.
For those who don’t know, there is a football franchise in the NFL, right here in the United States of America, whose name is the Washington Redskins. Even more astonishingly, the team calls our nation’s capital home.
In 1933, owner of the Boston Braves George P. Marshall changed the name of his franchise to the Boston Redskins. The team claimed, and still claims, that the name was supposed to honor Native Americans in some twisted way.
Four years later he moved the Redskins to Washington, D.C. Marshall’s wife took to creating the fight song for the team, full of highly controversial lyrics. It took more than 30 years for the franchise to change the words in the fight song, likely not under internal pressure.
Washington’s professional football team was also the last to integrate Black players in the league, only doing so after pressure by the Kennedy administration.
Many more blatantly racist events such as cartoons, official team trademarks and even the cheerleading uniforms, which included black-braided wigs, occurred in the remaining years of the 20th century.
The current team owner, one of the most maligned in all of American professional sports, I might add, Daniel Snyder, stated that the team would never change its name in 2013.
When are we going to recognize the injustices we have levied against the Native American community with real empathy resulting in change?
We can start by getting rid of a team name with decades of racism upholding its foundation.