Having grown up as a Washington Redskins fan from the 1970s through the 1990s, I’m appalled by the unfair vilification of the team’s former identity. A recent Boston Globe article, for instance, called the Redskins the “NFL franchise with the racist logo on its helmet.”
In fact, that logo, which was introduced in 1972, was designed in consultation with and was lauded by former Blackfeet Nation Tribal Council leader and National Congress of American Indians President Walter Wetzel. In contrast to the Cleveland Indians’ and Atlanta Braves’ vile caricature mascots, the Redskins’ dignified logo accurately and respectfully depicted a real person, Wetzel’s predecessor as Blackfeet Nation Chief Two Guns White Calf. According to his 2003 obituary in the Billings Gazette, Wetzel was “very proud of being the force behind the Indian Chief logo,” and he and his Redskins cap were “inseparable.”
As for the team’s now-retired name, Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard determined that the word “Redskins” originated as a genuine American Indian idiom of self-reference with a positive connotation. Granted, it was also misappropriated as a slur. Nevertheless, polls by Annenberg in 2004 and The Washington Post in 2016 both found that American Indians overwhelmingly rejected the view that the team’s name was offensive.
To be clear, I support the team changing its name now. The use of American Indian names and imagery by sports teams is an anachronism and should cease. But the demonization of the team’s past use of the name and logo is shameful historical revisionism.
The Dallas Cowboys’ name, by contrast, celebrates the lawless murderers of American Indians in film and popular culture. Their “lone star” helmet honors the Republic of Texas (1836-1846), which allowed slavery and denied citizenship to people of African and American-Indian descent. Where is the outcry there? Why the double standard?
STEPHEN A. SILVER
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