Sports fans might have been following some recent flap about the Washington Redskins, whose nickname is considered offensive by a lot of people. The front office of the team has actually issued a survey to fans as to whether the team should change the nickname, which they’ve had since the 1930’s. Owner Dan Snyder has gone on record saying that they will never change the nickname. There’s even been some threats of congressional action against the team.
I think most would agree that a private corporation like the Redskins are perfectly within their rights to use whatever they want for a nickname. I also think that most people would reasonably agree that the fact that we still have a team called the Redskins in 2013 is shameful. How is that even possible? Didn’t we spend the better part of 300 years killing American Indians and stealing their land? Not that changing the name of a sports team would ever make up for that, but seriously? Couldn’t we at least not have a team that is literally named after a racial slur?
Actually, the name “Redskins” isn’t nearly as shameful as Chief Wahoo, the mascot/logo for the Cleveland Indians. Now I’m a big Indians fan. I have fond memories of the mid 1990’s, when they were good enough to lose the World Series a couple times. But Chief Wahoo is easily the most terrible logo in American professional sports, and I don’t think it’s even close. This is actually something that is keeping me from buying any merchandise from my favorite baseball team. How could I go around wearing that hideous caricature on my forehead or torso?
Look, I know what it’s like. You love your team, and you don’t want them to change. I’m cool with that. I will never support any move for the Cleveland Browns to put a logo on their helmet, for example. But if you’re one of those who defends the use of this kind of trademark, what is your rationale? I don’t mean that rhetorically either. Why are you okay with it? Is the thought of changing any branding of your favorite team, even if that branding is offensive, too much for you to accept?
I don’t have a drop of Indian blood in my veins, and American Indians don’t need some white boy crusading on their behalf. And I’m well aware that a lot of Indians don’t have any particular problem with stuff like this. But I do have the right to be offended as a fan of one of these teams. It seems to me that their putting branding and marketing and sheer 1940’s racism ahead of simple dignity, and that’s not alright. It’s not like changing a nickname or logo will make up for centuries of genocide, but can we at least agree that it’s in very poor taste? It’s like if a sports team used male genitalia in their logo. You may not find it offensive, but do you really want to be the guy who fought to keep a terrible logo just because it’s always been there?