Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Washington Redskins management is in a gully that it can’t escape
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were in desperate circumstances. They were crouched in a gully surrounded on all sides hostile Natives. Their horses had run off. Their ammunition was almost gone. The Lone Ranger exclaimed to Tonto, “Tonto, we are trapped. Savage redskins block all the paths out of the canyon. What are we going to do?”
Tonto responded, “What do you mean by WE . . . kimo sabe?”
The ownership of the Washington Redskins professional football organization is indeed in a gully, surrounded on all sides by increasing numbers of critics. Their team name was always a racial slur, equivalent to denigrating appellations such as the Washington Honkies or the Washington Sambos. The management’s continued obstinacy to widespread demands to end something that was always wrong, is inexplicable. The tidal wave of criticism will only increase and there is only one possible outcome.
There are many alternative names for this football team that would honor the heritage of Native Americans. That is not the problem.
The problem is that the management of the Washington franchise has forgotten that ALL of their income is derived from the American public. The team is not a feudal kingdom that would exist, whether or not, anyone came to watch their games. They prosper at the discretion of the people of the Washington, DC Area. The government of Washington, DC and the football fans paid for their stadium. The American taxpayers paid for the roads and transit lines that bring fans to their stadiums. Viewers of television advertisements add to the management’s coffers.
There is arrogance that has pervaded portions of corporate America and certain “talking heads” on television. They have forgotten that their income is directly derived from the commonwealth of the people. The consumers, who support the affluence of professional athletes and management, DO have a right to demand that the team names are reflective of societal values.
The current attitude of the Washington Redskins management reminds me of an economics professor, who I had in graduate school at Georgia State University. He was fond of saying, “In a perfect world there would be no employees or customers, just profits to be divided up between management and the stockholders.”
Growing list of official opposition to a repugnant name
On April 18, 2015 the Organization of American Historians passed the following resolution: “The OAH adds its voice to the growing demands by Native American organizations, our sister disciplines, and conscientious people of all ethnic backgrounds, to change the name and logo of the Washington “Redskins.”
OAH is the nation’s leading organization of scholars of U.S. history. Its members know that history is relevant to the present. In this case continued use of a term that has become a racial slur can no longer be tolerated. Its use converts living peoples into mascots and shows contempt for an important continuing element of our national population.
On May 2, 2015, the American Studies Association (ASA) joined American Anthropological Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, the Linguistic Society of America, the Organization of American Historians, and many native organizations, institutions, and individuals in calling for the Washington Redskins to immediately change the team’s racist logo and name.
The decision came by a unanimous vote of the ASA executive committee on May 2, 2015. The ASA, as a leading site of scholarship on indigeniety, on racism, on settler colonialism, and on sport, and as an organization based in Washington, D.C. deplores the continuation the harmful nickname and images associated with the team.
Some window dressing is needed elsewhere
The other Native American names seen among sports teams are not inherently racist slurs. There is nothing denigrating about calling a team the Chieftains, Braves or Warriors. The team name of “Indians” right now is not politically correct, but it was never a racial slur. What has been insulting in the past were the logos and marketing images produced by these teams that were cartoonish and historically inaccurate.
However, if the teams with Native American names desire to keep their traditions, they might well pay a visit to the campus of the Florida State University Seminoles. The FSU Athletic Department has worked closely with the Seminole People to insure that persons from all ethnic backgrounds can take pride in the accomplishments of their outstanding university.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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