Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder doesn't understand why he should change his team's name. Many football fans think the outrage is manufactured and that the name should stay. No one is asking those who the team is named after why it is a slap in the face to every person of native heritage in the United States.
You won't hear the reason in mainstream media. The only way you'll find any good information about it is if you dig deep into the Internet to find it, or talk to a member of a Native American tribe. I learned the reason this slur brings back such a painful past during a lecture in college. An aging Choctaw elder from Oklahoma came to speak in my class one day and opened my eyes to the reality of the term.
I learned that the term "Redskins" was offensive not just because it's a racial slur, but because it holds a more sinister meaning.
This is what I learned:
In many Native cultures, a person's hair, especially a man's hair, was an extension of one's soul. According to historian James Axtell, "To lose that hair to an enemy was to lose control over one's life, to become socially and spiritually `dead', whether biological death resulted or not."
American Indians weren't the only people doing the scalping. European settlers performed that act in large numbers. In fact, the height of scalping Indians occurred in the mid-18th century, with written documents by people of all walks of life describing it. One man -- a reverend in the local church -- described how much money he had received as his share for supplying ammunition and provisions to a scalp-hunting party.
The Choctaw elder described that the term "redskin" was also the result of Anglo settlers skinning the natives and presenting them to government officials for a fee. He said some of those skins were sold to make lampshades and ladies' gloves made from the skin of dead American Indians. The term "redskin" was used to describe the skin of a dead Indian.
Forbes magazine has addressed the matter in an op-ed by Jeff Bercovici. He wrote, "Dan Snyder has lost Bob Costas. It won't be long before he's lost middle America, too."
Costas, one of the most trusted name in sports, rarely discusses his opinion on controversial matters, but on Sunday, he slammed Snyder's comment that the name "Redskins" is a badge of honor. He said:
"Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage, or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”
No matter its present day intent.
It's likeclaiming the 'N' word has lost its original meaning because black people use a variation of it. It doesn't mean it is any less offensive, and it doesn't make the heritage it derives from any less deplorable.
Dan Snyder needs to face reality and a growing movement to rename his football team to something that is less racially charged but yet reflects the team's heritage sufficiently. And football fans should do a little more fact checking before pooh-poohing such a change.