The Arguments about the Washington Redskins Name Have Been Going Since 1972


Washington Redskins name as racial slur: the latest topic du jour in the internet age? If it was such a big deal, why did the name suddenly become racist in the last few years? I can tell you from archive searches of general sports pages that the issue has been referenced for quite awhile, but I thought it dated to the mid to late eighties. Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Bog went back through some archives in 1972 and found a substantial amount of discussion on the issue that you may find relevant to plenty of today’s arguments.

Here are a sampling of what you can find:

"John Parker, however, a Choctaw from Oklahoma who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was indignant. “They should change the name,” he said. “It lacks dignity, a haphazard slang word that refers to Indians in general but on a lower scale. It is the white people’s way of making a mockery, like they used to do to the blacks in the South.”"

And here:

"Laura Wittstock, a Seneca from New York, recently went to the Washington Redskins ticket office at 1875 K St. NW, the walls of which are adorned with photographs of “famous Western Chiefs.” She felt like a florist in a shop of plastic flowers. “It makes me personally very angry and I would rather they not use the name Redskins,” Miss Wittstock said, “but the offense is very subtle.” She said other minorities such as blacks, Jews and Italians have taken advantage of growing national sensitivity to…minorities to demand respect. “All is left is the Indian,” she said, “and this problem is beginning to stand out like a sore thumb.”"

The president of the Washington Redskins, Edward Bennett Williams, had this to say:

"“This is getting silly,” Williams said yesterday. “Suppose blacks get together and demanded Cleveland’s football team stopped calling itself the Browns, or ornithologists insisted that Baltimore was demeaning to birds because the name is the Orioles.”"

One difference between 1972 and 2014 is the response that would have followed from that buzz-worthy quote. #RedskinsPride

"“You’ve made money off this Indian stereotype for years,” said Seneca Indian Laura Wittstock, “and we refuse to accept this kind of argument now. Any corporation that finds something wrong with its public relations or public image does not hesitate to change.”… “We left Williams with a pure moral issue,” [Ron Aguilar, head of the National Youth Indian Council] said. “We know we are right and that we will win, but we are not sure that we can depend on Williams to act on purely moral principle.”"

Williams’ response:

"“All the reaction I’ve received on the nickname question has been unsympathetic to the protesting Indian groups,” Williams said yesterday. “We would not carry a symbol offensive to any group. No one has persuaded me that the Redskins, as a symbol of our football team, is offensive.” “Had I been persuaded,” Williams added, “we would have taken action accordingly.”"

This uproar in 1972 did prompt the team to change some of the lyrics to “Hail to the Redskins”.

"“They had some good points to make against the lyrics of our fight song,” Williams said. “The swamp ‘ems, scalp ‘ems and heap ‘ems is a mocking of dialect. We won’t use those lyrics anymore.”…"

The issue has become “hot button” recently, but then again, everything is magnified in the modern social media environment. Those are taken from 8 articles written in local Washington area papers over a 7 month span 52 years ago. It is doubtful, that unless you were digging deep in the Washington Post as say, a reader in Texas, you would have been award. Now, when Daniel Snyder’s group wants you to blow up Harry Reid’s e-mail, you know about it if you are plugged into the news cycle.

Where does this leave us? With an issue almost as old as a college football playoff.