The season hasn't even begun yet, but the Washington Redskins name-change battle is in midseason form. The newest front: "RedskinsFacts.com," a "growing online community of passionate Washington Redskins fans and others who support the team’s use of its name and logo."
Certainly, there are plenty of fans and Redskins alumni passionate about the team's name. However, the website, as Slate discerned by viewing code and artwork on the site, is apparently not the creation of a group of grassroots-level dedicated fans, but rather an image-remodeling firm.
The team would not disclose whether it is, or is not, funding the website. "The alumni and the Redskins have a long history of supporting each other and this education effort is no different,” team spokesman Tony Wyllie told Slate. "So where it is appropriate for the alumni to pay for expenses then they will and when it is appropriate for the Redskins then the organization will. Since it is so early in the education effort there is no easy breakdown available."
RedskinsFacts.com offers plenty of evidence in support of the name, including surveys, historical records, and testimonials from notables including Joe Gibbs. But the Washington Post ran a fact-check on the site, and found that while many of the facts hold up, the site had a very selective way of presenting those facts.
"The RedskinsFacts Web site ... artfully tries to skate past the change in how 'redskins' was used and perceived," the Post writes. "While the earliest references may have been benign, and Indian leaders at one point may have referred to themselves as 'red,' 'red men,' or 'red-skins,' the phrase increasingly acquired unfavorable meanings by the late 19th century."
The Post also notes that the site does not repeat the often-used claims that the team was named in honor of its first head coach, William Henry 'Lone Star' Dietz, who claimed Native American heritage. The reasons? Recently unearthed news articles include this quote from former owner George Preston Marshall: "The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins.” Furthermore, Dietz may not have even been Native American in the first place, which RedskinsFacts avoids by simply saying Dietz "identified himself" as a Native American.
The Redskins have considerable experience with crowd-level efforts that go wrong, like the #RedskinsPride misfire. In that instance, earlier this summer, the team took to Twitter to ask fans to carry its water and saw opponents of the name rise up. If in fact RedskinsFacts is simply the creation of the team, this is yet another case where the team either didn't think matters through to their logical conclusion, didn't think fans were smart enough to see through a ruse, or didn't care either way. There's nothing wrong with creating a pride-based website to put out one's own side of the facts, but dressing it up as some kind of fake "grass-roots effort" is the hokiest kind of political theater. You own the name, Washington; own your pride in it, too.
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- Washington Redskins