today in black history

April 14, 2024

Elston Howard becomes the first Black player on the New York Yankees baseball team on this date in 1955.

Names Matter

POSTED: November 14, 2013, 10:00 am

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Imagine sitting back in front of your big screen plasma television on an autumn Sunday, comfortably fixed in your favorite chair and you tune into the NFL broadcast and hear the play-by-play call:

“It’s 2nd down with 5 to go for a first down and the Washington Niggers are on their 40 yard line. It’s been tough going for the Niggers against the Giants today but the fans here in Nigger Stadium are doing their best to get the team going.”

Pretty offensive, huh? Yes, as is the real name of the professional football franchise in our nation’s capital – the Washington Redskins. It seems like some folks are finally waking up to the reality that the name is more than offensive, it is vile. There is no way around that conclusion. If the team were indeed branded with the equally derogatory N-word, there would be few people would publicly defend it as “tradition.” The arrogance of team owner Dan Snyder insisting that he would never change the name of the franchise is consistent with the air of entitlement and power that is at the root of the historical oppression of American Indians. And equally symbolic is the ignorance of some, including Native Americans, who claim not to be bothered by their culture being bastardized. One of the byproducts of racism is the confusion and psychological damage it inflicts upon the oppressed; an affliction that is evident in the African-American community. The idea that the name ‘Redskins’ can be viewed as honorable is as stupid as Kanye West claiming to take ownership of the Confederate flag. History is not like an Etch-a-Sketch; you simply can’t shake it and make the imagery or trail of violence disappear, or causally use language marked by blood.

The District of Columbia City Council has expressed opposition to the team’s name, as has Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s representative in Congress. The mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak voiced his opposition to the name prior to a game Washington played against the Minnesota Vikings. Ryback posted a message on social media stating, “It has never been right to disrespect the indigenous people of our country, and it is especially wrong to do it in 2013 with the name of a team that represents our nation’s capital.” Six members of the Minneapolis City Council sent a letter to the National Football League condemning the name of the Washington franchise. At the Minnesota game hundreds of people held a protest at the Vikings stadium. President Obama has also expressed his concern over the team’s name. The problem is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has wavered, choosing to buttress Snyder rather than making the prudent and morally correct step of showing real leadership and demanding the team change its name.

Professional sports is a business and retaining Redskins as the Washington football franchise name is bad business; or at least it should be viewed as such. Could you imagine walking into your local supermarket and seeing a can of Redskin beans on the shelf with an image of an American Indian on the label? I think most consumers; most decent people would find such a product insulting. If the NFL is the football equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce, there should be strong pressure on Dan Snyder by NFL owners to change the name of a team that plays in a predominantly Black county. What’s more, FederalExpress, the company with the naming rights to the team’s stadium, should be leading the call for a team name change.

For some reason, we continue to give professional sports a pass. It’s not just the DC football franchise; there are baseball teams (Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves) and college teams that are long overdue for a change in name. Stanford University got the message years ago when it dropped Indians as its sports teams name and adopted Cardinal. The insistence on calling teams by names that offend is just another example of how some elements in this nation cling to a historical narrative that is hurtful and divisive, and masks the suffering that was endured by a people who are the first Americans.

Having lived in DC and Prince George’s County Maryland I know the deep affection fans have for the team, even African-Americans despite the fact that for years the franchise had little regard for Blacks. The team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, is infamous for his insistence on an all-white franchise but still gained entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. Therein is the problem. We look the other way and ignore the bigots and racists so long as they pack the stadium and give us some winning play. It is why I am taking particular delight in the troubles Washington’s team is having on the field this season. Karma is a mother. Sorry RGIII.

With the Super Bowl coming to the media capital of the world this February, there could be no better time than to spotlight the hypocrisy of the NFL on the issue of the name of the Washington franchise. Dan Snyder, Roger Goodell and fans who support the name need to be revealed to the world and put on display as artifacts of a past that is long overdue being put in the past.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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