Micah Rice: Time has come to retire Redskins nickname

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

It's time for the Redskins nickname to be retired.

It's time because our society will gradually move beyond it.

It's time because even if you support Washington, D.C.'s NFL team keeping it, would you feel comfortable calling an American Indian a Redskin to their face?

No? I didn't think so.

The debate over the use of American Indian mascots, and especially the 80-year-old Redskins name, has simmered for decades.

But now it feels different. The protesters, once the fringe, are picking up support. The supporters of the status quo, though still the majority, will eventually find themselves on the margins.

In the past week, the U.S. Patent Office canceled the organization's trademark rights to the name Redskins, calling the name insulting to American Indians.

That decision was hailed by American Indian groups. The National Congress of American Indians backed a powerful TV advertisement that aired during the NBA Finals. It dispels the notion that Redskin is somehow a term of reverence.

Therein lies an important distinction. Chiefs, Braves, Tomahawks or locally the Columbia River High School Chieftains, carry respectful or reverential connotations. Pat Mattison, spokeswoman for Vancouver Public Schools, said Friday the district has not received any complaints about the Chieftains nickname or logo, which features an Indian in a headdress.

Redskins, meanwhile, is simply a slur.

For that reason, The Seattle Times announced last week it will no longer publish the nickname in its sports stories. In its announcement, it quoted Randy Lewis, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes who is a board member for United Indians.

"I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word," he said. "They say they're trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn't dignify us. It doesn't honor us. It doesn't make us feel good about ourselves."

Defenders of the name have cited public opinion polls that show a majority support keeping the name. But dig deeper into the polling data and you'll find an increasing number of people acknowledge the name is offensive.

In January, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cited a 10-year-old heavily criticized poll that claims 90 percent of American Indians don't find the name offensive. But dubious public opinion polls are simply a smokescreen when this issue calls for moral clarity.

Which begs the question, why do supporters of the Redskins nickname back something that brings distaste and pain to a large group of people?

It comes down to stubbornness, a self-serving coping mechanism to quell the anxiety that naturally comes with change.

They will cling to what they call "tradition." But just because something is old and outdated doesn't make it traditional.

Traditions withstand the changes that come with the ages because they unite and elevate, not because they're propped up by the change-be-damned crowd.

Here's hoping the word Redskin suffers the same fate as the word Negro, which was acceptable for much of this nation's history. Eventually, our society evolved and jettisoned that word from common vernacular.

Evolution is rarely smooth or linear. Change is a back-and-forth tug-of-war, but more people in this country have always gravitated toward the side of social tolerance, compassion and acceptance.

Let's hope, with its collective might, society will eventually pull the reprehensible Redskins nickname off the football field.