Just The Point: No skin left in the game

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By Richard Kleeberg
Special to the Express

After decades of rock-solid refusal to consider a change, the Washington Redskins professional football team announced last week that they are considering a name change. And just days later, the Cleveland Indians professional baseball team indicated that they, too, would now reconsider their nickname.

By the time this reaches print in the Express, it is possible that those mascot names, Redskins and Indians, will have been assigned to the pile of our dark dismal history, where they belong.

I have never understood why it has been so common and acceptable, for so long, to use a race of people—often the color of their skin—as a mascot or nickname for a club or team.

Some people tell me that the Redskin name honors and salutes Native Americans. And I have been told that the Redskins and Indians nicknames show our current respect for Native Americans.

I just don’t see it. I think far too many people cling to that clever “honor and respect” claim as an excuse to simply pretend not to remember our less than noble history in regards to Native Americans. But nothing about our White, European settlers 400-year relationship with Native Americans has been honorable, or done with respect. Plain and simple, what White people did to Native Americans was genocide. And trying now to say we honor and respect them by choosing to use ugly nicknames does nothing to show that we understand this terrible history.

So you still like Redskins? Redskins? Really? I know that some of you will disagree with me, and see no problem with Redskins. If so, I ask, would you be comfortable if the San Francisco 49ers announced a name change to Blackskins, or Darkskins? How would you feel if the NFL team in Miami chose today to drop their Dolphins mascot and switched to Yellowskins? Would you be fine with the Green Bay Packers changing to their name Green Bay Palefaces? Really?

Almost everyone I have ever asked about this has been amazingly uncomfortable with Blackskins or Yellowskins, as team nicknames. Apparently, these nicknames don’t honor and respect people from Asia or Africa the way some people feel Redskins salutes Native Americans!

Most of you know that we had a similar nickname and symbol controversy in Winters a couple of years ago, when the Winters school district officials decided to permanently retire the Indian headdress that had been used as both a symbol and mascot for the local Winters Warriors High School teams.

The school district chose to retain and use only the generic nickname, Warriors. I know that some of my Winters friends are still upset that the Indian face and headdress has been eliminated.

But would they feel the same way, if that the historical mascot and symbol for Winters High School had been an old Jewish man, wearing a Yarmulke, the little cloth skullcap most conservative Jewish males wear in the Synagogue and at home? Or would it be reasonable if Winters High School used the face of an Asian man in straw hat, often called a coolie or rice paddy hat? Why are these comparisons easy to cringe at, but Redskins, Indians, and Indian Headdresses have enjoyed general approval for so long?

I am very glad to hear that the professional teams in Washington and Cleveland are finally reconsidering their Native American nicknames and mascots. And I am also quite pleased that Winters High School had dropped the Indian Headdress.

But there is still much more that needs to be done to purge these names and symbols from common use in the United States as nicknames and mascots. From what I can find on the internet, there are nearly 1,000 high schools, close to 100 colleges, and several professional teams that still need to do the right thing and stop using Native American imagery for their teams nicknames. Maybe this year they will get the message.

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