DC is undoubtedly a football town. There is not an inch of the city where you can’t find the colors of the hometown team flying high during football season. Fans are known for being loyal to the bone, whether the team is winning or losing, the love remains. However, the significance of the team in the cultural landscape of the city also brings it right smack into the line of fire for scrutiny when it comes to its name. The team, which was established in Boston in 1932, took it’s home in DC in 1937. From the beginning, the team has endured a long history of push back over its name and that debate is in full steam today.
Proponents of the name say it’s a tribute to the teams first coach, Lone Star Dietz, a self-proclaimed Sioux Indian, who coached the inaugural Boston Redskins team 80 years ago, before it moved to Washington. It is said that the name is meant “out of respect for Native American heritage and tradition.” Of course opponents see the name very differently. Some point to what they claim is a false history, stating that they believe Dietz wasn’t even Native American in the first place. “The lies kept changing as needed,” says Linda M. Waggoner, an independent historian who has published articles debunking several of Dietz’s claims. Others say that the term (Redskins) is culturally insensitive and an is an insult to Native American people. “I would say we do need action,” says Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “And one of those actions is treating Indian country respectfully. One of those actions, Dan Snyder, is changing the name. Respect Indian country, do what is right, and don’t cloak it with something else.”
Others in the debate say what does it matter if it’s offensive or not, that’s their name and they have a right to call themselves whatever they want. It’s free speech, they argue. Take Rodney Smolla, Dean and Rrofessor at Widener University Delaware Law School. “I don’t like anything about the Washington Redskins,” Smolla tells USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t like their name and I don’t like their logo. But as a free-speech lawyer, you’re often in the position of defending speech that you personally find distasteful.”
Is this name offensive? Is the name change a civil rights issue? Does the government have any authority to tell private entities what they can call themselves? These are some of the questions on the table in this debate and it has far reaching implications beyond this current case. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of American democracy. Can it coexist with terms like “hate speech” and pushes for “safe spaces?” How far do we go to protect those deemed vulnerable? What is to be gained by adhering to cultural sensitivities?
One organization bringing this discussion to the citizens of DC is HumanitiesDC. Tonight the organization is hosting their monthly event called Humanitini, their signature “think and drink” program tag lined “Where happy hour meets the humanities!” Tonight’s Humanitini is entitled “Washington Redskins: More Than Just a Name?” and it is going to focus specifically on this issue. Held at the The Brixton, 901 U Street NW, at 6:30pm, this event is expected to provide a outlet for all perspectives to listen and share. No matter where you fall on the spectrum in this discourse, this will be a great opportunity for DC locals to have their voices heard. Check it out and be sure to let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on this issue? To RSVP click HERE.