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Would You Want to be Called That?

Tradition is a hard thing to let go of, whether it’s a good or bad one. It’s easy to fall into the “it’s always been that way” hole, so I can only imagine that’s why the debate over the NFL’s Washington Redskins name actually has some on the home team’s side.

I get why team owner Dan Snyder is fighting the name change. He cites the fact that the Redskings name “honors” Native Americans, but in reality it’s a branding issue. To change an NFL team’s name and image could cost him millions up front and there’s no guarantee how that move would be embraced by hardcore fans. He cites that certain Native American groups actually consider the term “Redskin” one of honor, but lately holes have been shot in that theory as more and more tribes and individuals have spoken out against the name.

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve flinched internally at that team’s nickname. Sure, the logo and colors are cool but I would never walk up to a Native American and call him that to his face; would you? You wouldn’t know it by looking at me with my blonde hair and blue eyes but grandparents on both my mother and father’s sides have Native American blood coursing through their veins. I’m not going to be one of those guys who claims that ancestry because that would be bogus but it does perhaps make me a bit more sensitive to the issue.

It used to be, a long time ago, that to be a Native American was no big thing, but then a little movie came out in 1990 called Dances With Wolves and suddenly everyone claimed Native American ancestry. It hasn’t really died down that much since as to be viewed as such seems to engender a feeling of nobility in some folks.

My sons are one-half Native American as their mother, my ex-wife, was full-blood Native American, born on the reservation, the whole thing. So I look at this issue through their eyes, and while they haven’t gotten that worked up about it they can see the inequality, especially when they see white guys with red face makeup on at Redskins and Cleveland Indians games. How would this go over if people wore black or brown face paint out in public? Would we be as tolerant then? They have both asked me how these people get away with it for so long and, frankly, I don’t have a good answer.

I differ about from some on this side of the argument as I don’t find anything wrong with the Atlanta Braves, Florida State Seminoles, even the Indians as their names (though the Chief Wahoo mascot is fairly racist) do pay some sort of homage to Native Americans.

The Native American community has been a downtrodden race for hundreds of years, and it seems that’s not going to stop anytime soon. Snyder, because he apparently loves Native Americans so much (did you note the sarcasm?) has started a foundation to give money to the Native American tribes and help them get a leg up. If you want to call it hush money go ahead, I have. If Snyder really wants to honor Native Americans then big changes are in order and he needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune and the Van Alstyne Leader. He can be contacted at or