I have no doubt that for many the use of the Washington NFL team’s nickname is meant to be an honor. My objection to the name is simple. There are many Native American tribes and groups who are opposed to all uses of Native American imagery and reference for non-Native American sports teams. There are many individuals of Native American descent who are similarly opposed and have said so publicly.
I’m aware that many other Native Americans say they’re proud of the names and teams, and I’m certain the reason there is a debate now is because of this ambivalence within the community.
But what I hear in the objection is more personal and moving than is the support. Many people find the use of the nickname painful and demeaning and would like it to stop. In 1972 the Stanford sports teams stopped using Indian imagery and references for their team names. My favorite college, St. Johns, stopped using the team name Redmen years ago, as have many other teams at every level in the US and Canada.
They’ve done this out of respect for the Native Americans who have objected, who have said that using the names is disrespectful and hurtful.Â For me, that’s the side I want to be on.
One thing I learned from this discussion was that the state name Oklahoma is a combination of two ChoctawÂ words that add up to mean Red People. The funny thing about this is that the state is proud of its Indian heritage, and features on its shield five flags, each representing one of the major Native American tribes that reside there.
I say funny, because these five tribes, the Creeks, Choctaw, Seminoles (isn’t that the name of a Florida football team?), Chickasaw and Cherokee were forcibly resettled in the state. Not, I’m assuming, because of its bountiful natural resources.Â There’s a reason this forcible relocation from their homes in the southeastern part of the US, in a devastating march west, is called the Trail of Tears.
This is a heritage all of us live with, even if many of usÂ don’t think about it all that often. Which is why I listen when I’m reminded Â of it, especially by people whose personalÂ history has been so starkly and dramatically colored by it. For me, if our continued use of their caricatures on our sports teams is painful, itÂ is time to stop.
In any case, I hoped to provoke discussion and thought about the use of Native American names and imagery by omitting the Washington team’s name from the Guide, and I appreciate the letters from those who have objected to it, as well as those who’ve spoken out in support. If we continue to discuss and argue about the real issues here, I’m sure we’ll eventually come to a proper resolution.