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MUHAMMAD: To Change Racist Team Name, Fire the Owner

Askia Muhammad | 11/13/2013, 3 p.m.
The fact that the current owner of the Washington NFL franchise refuses to even entertain the notion of decency with ...
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder

The fact that the current owner of the Washington NFL franchise refuses to even entertain the notion of decency with regard to retiring his racist team name and its logo should come as no surprise to anyone. The owners of this franchise have often behaved badly, going back to the supreme bigot, George Preston Marshall, who gave the team its odious name in the first place.

Marshall, who changed the name from the “Braves” to its current unacceptable form, liked to dress up in fake Native American garb, and he even called himself the “Big Chief.” And if anyone thinks that in the early part of the 20th century when White men dressed up in “Indian” costumes and danced around whooping and hollering with their faces painted, not knowing what they were saying, or what their antics meant, if anyone thinks such drunken antics were intended to “honor” anyone, they should think again.

Those were the days when the Ku Klux Klan was running rampant through the U.S. South, and that’s just what Marshall fashioned his team to be when he moved it from Boston to Washington – the NFL team of “The South,” embracing all the racist notions that went along with representing Confederate-land and its “lost cause” of trying to maintain slavery when they instigated the Civil War.

Marshall’s was the very last team to hire a Black player, and his belligerence led teams which already had Black players to turn their backs on keeping the Blacks they already had, or adding any new Blacks to any of the rosters until the San Francisco 49ers drafted Ollie Matson (who went on to share Rookie of the Year honors) in 1952. Marshall’s “Team of the South” would not hire a Black player for another decade.

Current Washington team owner Daniel Snyder has refused to consider changing the name from “Redksins,” insisting that he considers the epithet a “badge of honor.” Scholars however, disabuse that notion.

When football fans insist they are “honoring” the bravery of Native Americans by imitating tribal dress and customs they simply don’t understand, according to Dr. C. Richard King, co-editor of Encyclopedia of Native Americans in Sports, and a professor at Washington State University.

Those who believe the names are honorific are simply holding on to a “sincere fiction” King told attendees at a recent conference to discuss the team name called by Native groups. The reality is that objectifying Native people with sports team names in Washington, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Atlanta, is ugly and offensive, King said.

“Enough is enough, the name must go,” said D.C. Councilmember David Grosso about his name change proposal which was unanimously adopted by the D.C. Council Nov. 5. The suggestion that the team name and logo should be kept as some symbol of the team’s heritage “is akin to saying to Native people (that) your pain has less worth than our football memories.”

But that is exactly what Snyder is saying. He told ticket holders in a letter that he remembers growing up cheering for the team, and now his nostalgia over that racist sobriquet is the basis for his insistence that he will “never” change the name. Has it ever crossed Snyder’s mind that the team he was cheering for as a child was the most racist in the NFL? Or is he proud of that part of its “heritage” as well?