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COMMENTARY: Redskins Name a Tradition We Can Do Without

Charles E. Sutton | 6/4/2014, 8 p.m.
If racial slurs are a significant part of your football tradition, you need to change that tradition — immediately.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder (Courtesy of the Atlantic.com)

The Washington football franchise has had several memorable moments and legendary players. Sonny, Monk and Riggins. We've had "Smurfs" and "Hogs." RFK Stadium, where the stands used to rock, literally! I'm talking about a franchise that has won three Super Bowls and developed a national following.

There's no doubt that the team has made us proud over the years, on and off the field. Both the organization and its players have provided countless hours of quality community service. Our team has touched many lives in very positive ways.

You may have noticed by now, though, that I'm not using our team's nickname. It's by design. In conversation during the past three or four seasons, I've called them everything but. And quite honestly, I don't think that anyone has noticed that I've refused to refer to the team by that name.

I know. It's going to be hard to discuss this issue without putting the word out there. So here goes: "Redskins."

Trust me, that wasn’t easy for me. I don’t like to use racial slurs, demeaning or condescending language. I intentionally avoid words that may rob a person or group of their dignity. I'd rather use language that promotes love, respect and interpersonal harmony.

This is why I don't like the word "Redskins." I believe there's no place for this term in our conversation or our society. Unfortunately, those whose opinions hold the most weight on the matter don't seem to agree.

For more than 30 years, members of the Native American community have openly complained about use of the term "Redskins." They’ve even testified before the United States Congress on this issue. Through their televised testimony they made it perfectly clear that the word is a racial slur which steals their dignity and stains the very fabric of their families and communities. However, the Washington football franchise continues to use the word "Redskins" and, if that weren’t insulting enough, has the unmitigated gall to use a logo of a Native American in headdress.

Washington football fans have the audacity to say it's acceptable to use "Redskins" because the word is harmless and such a major part of the team’s tradition. Tradition! If racial slurs are a significant part of your football tradition, you need to change that tradition right away. It's great to have a team that competes and wins a lot of games. But whatever success the team achieves is dramatically diminished and simply cheapened when it shows such disrespect for Native Americans.

Let's talk about this so-called tradition for a minute. George Preston Marshall, one of the most devout racists in American sports history, purchased the Boston Braves in 1932, changed their name to "Redskins" in 1933, and moved the franchise to Washington in 1937. The team was given the name "Redskins" in an effort to mock a coach that possibly had a mother who was part Sioux. Marshall once forced his coach to wear war paint and a headdress(!).

From 1933 to 1946, Marshall was one of a group of owners that prevented African-Americans from playing in the NFL. The "Redskins" was the last franchise in the league to integrate its team, and it likely only did so because its new stadium was built on government-owned land on which the Kennedy administration had the authority to enforce federal laws against discrimination.

When Marshall died in 1969, he left a sizeable amount of his financial fortune to a foundation in his name, with one condition: not one dollar can go toward any purpose which supports racial integration in any way, shape or form. Is this the tradition that "Redskins" fans are talking about?

Dan Snyder, the current "Redskins" owner, also happens to be Jewish. One would think that he knows about discrimination. However, he insists that he'll never change the name of his team. So to this day, the blatant, open racism of George Preston Marshall continues. Again, some tradition, huh?

Thankfully, today we live in a world that's rapidly moving toward inclusion. For many years in America, the flags of racism, sexism and homophobia have been firmly planted in the soils of segregation, alienation and ostracism. Our modern-day America won't tolerate these barriers to cultural progress, and we're seeing them crumble as the nation evolves. As this country continues to move forward, we must also clean up our language.

"Redskins" fans, I beseech you to demand that the team do the right thing. The time has come for positive change.