By Ken Trainor
Glad to see people finally urging the Washington Redskins to change their name. There is, of course, opposition, as there is to any change, no matter how obvious the need.
The main objections come from two camps:
1) Redskin loyalists and general sports traditionalists who defend the "grand tradition" of Redskin Nation (wonder if they catch the irony).
2) Hard-headed contrarians who don't like do-gooder busybodies telling them what to do.
As for objection number one, like it or not, a long history of cultural oppression against indigenous peoples accompanies this nickname. You can't just shrug it off.
As for objection number two, we don't want to tell you what to do. We want you to figure this out for yourselves.
Then again, if I could tell you what to do …
This was the first fiat in my June 23, 1999 column, wherein I discussed what I would do if I were King of the United States. Here's a snippet:
As we (royally speaking) indicated last week, our first edict would be to change the name of the Washington Redskins, a national disgrace.
This goes back to America's original sin — our treatment of the Americans who were here first. As penance, we're changing the name of the D.C. football team to the "Great White Fathers."
The "tomahawk chop" [Atlanta Braves and Florida State University]? Gone. Chief Wahoo, that ridiculous, grinning "Redskin" on the cap of the Cleveland Indians? Gone.
But I'm no an extremist. Any sports team that uses the nickname of an actual, historical Native-American tribal group can continue doing so — if that tribe gives its consent. See how reasonable we are?
I'm sure I wasn't the first to call for this change, but as you can see, I was well ahead of the curve.
When the professional football team in D.C. does finally rectify this blatant insult to all indigenous Americans, I doubt they will take my suggestion and adopt "Great White Fathers" as their new nickname — though it would certainly be poetic justice since that's how the tribes addressed our leaders in Washington whenever the government was poised to take away more of their lands.
Fortunately, others have put forward more forward-thinking proposals.
A leading candidate would be keeping the nickname but changing the logo to a (redskin) potato. Good call. For a mascot, I suggest Mr. Potatohead, wearing a helmet and looking exceptionally fierce. Seems appropriate since a lot of veteran NFL players now resemble Mr. Potatohead, following their concussion-packed careers.
The other day, I heard someone suggest the Washington Chaos, reflecting the current state of our federal government (well, the House of Representatives anyway). Forces of nature make better nicknames than indigenous tribal groups. Alabama, for instance, is known as the "Crimson Tide." Great name.
We could call the D.C. football team the "Gridlock." They can put an elephant on one side of their helmets, facing backward, and a donkey on the other side, facing forward, reflecting each party's political orientation.
How about the Washington DCs (short for Dysfunctional Congress)? Or the Filibusters? Since all they do is obstruct, the mascot would be a crybaby, mouth agape.
There are myriad possibilities: Can Kickers? Know Nothings? Do Nothings? Buck Passers?
Or Pigskins, incorporating both the traditional slang term for a football and an allusion to the self-obsessed swine who pretend to be legislators.
Just as professional football, in all its gladiatorial glory, is a reflection of how American culture has evolved (or devolved) — violent, hypercompetitive, excessively emotional, militaristic, a gridiron upon which we vent the baser angels of our nature — so too is Washington a mirror of our worst impulses and instincts: our corruption and inflexibility, our ruthless and reckless disregard for the truth.
Maybe it's not such a good idea to have a football team in D.C. at all.
Maybe the team should be moved to some red state, most of which are overly dependent on federal subsidies but spend all their time complaining about people addicted to the "dole." Their nickname could be the "Tea Party," a reference to the angry white guys who once upon a time dressed up like "Indians" and threw tea into Boston Harbor. They can call themselves the "Redneckskins." See how they like it.
On second thought, perhaps a case can be made for keeping the Washington Redskins after all. By broadcasting our greatest shame, our "national sin," we are forced to confront the shadow side of our collective psyche — similar to the media images of Tea Party demonstrators waving Confederate flags in front of the White House during the recent government shutdown.
Simply changing the name, of course, won't shrink our shadow. It would only push more of our objectionable attitudes down into the darkness.
Progress will only be made when we recognize the ugliness inherent in some of the icons to which we have become so devoted.
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