Washington nickname column elicits reaction

Michael Silver

Since joining the Y! Sports team in the summer of 2007, I've written my share of controversial columns, beginning with an examination of the hypocrisy surrounding the reaction to Michael Vick's(notes) dog-fighting charges. I've broken down the Spygate scandal, blamed Brett Favre(notes) for his breakup with the Packers and questioned the legacy of longtime NFL Players Association leader Gene Upshaw – all of which led to some highly impassioned reader replies.

But that column I wrote last Tuesday calling for Washington's NFL team to lose its nickname – that really struck a nerve.


Daniel Snyder's team recently won a trademark appeals hearing regarding the nickname.

(Geoff Burke/US Presswire)

In an assault on my inbox I can only liken to John Riggins charging across the line of scrimmage in Super Bowl XVII, many of you weighed in with strong arguments about why this was a reasonable, calamitous or violence-provoking idea. Sadly, I can only offer a small sampling. I'd love to have been able to personally reply to each of you, but given that I was literally getting hundreds of emails per hour on the day the column posted, it would probably take me until the Fourth of July – 2010 – to accomplish this task.

Among the common themes expressed by those opposed to the column's thesis: This is yet another example of politically-correct thought run amok. That reaction troubles me, because I believe this issue goes well beyond the realm of the PC police. I'm not out to ban dodgeball (as one emailer whose response I didn't include suggested) or end Christmas (see below); I'm merely questioning whether we should continue to use a term that is blatantly degrading toward an ethnic group that, undeniably, has been subjected to far more perilous injustices over the course of our nation's history.

If nothing else, I'm heartened that this issue has been thrown out there for increased public consumption, and I hope that a referendum on "Redskins" can play out in this space and others as we work toward a more perfect NFL. In that spirit, I'll put off discussion on last Friday's column about the abrasive management style of Eric Mangini and some of Bill Belichick's other disciples (yeah, that one provoked some angry responses, too) and jump headlong into the fray.


Thank you, thank you, thank you! It saddens me to think that there are people that are actually fighting to keep using the extremely racist team name. I don't know if I should cry or laugh at the irony that this team represents the capital city of America. I hope that your inbox is full of emails supporting changing the name, but I fear that in reality you are being flooded with emails in support of the name. Best of luck!


Thanks. I'll obviously need it …

I don't have a question for you, I have a mother (expletive) statement! The Redskins deserve to keep there name … why are you taking (expletive) offense to this? The Redskins have been around for a long time and youre going to remove there tradition and history … are you serious? Quit your day job! Youre too much a politically-correct peice of (expletive)! I have Native American in me, im not taking offense to it! Go 'Skins! I wish someone would punch you in the face!

Adam Whiddon

For what it's worth, you've got some anger in you, too. I wish someone would kiss you on the mouth.

The article about the Redskins that you wrote was way out in left field. First off, the tribe that doesn't like the name has had decades to challenge but it never did. Secondly, if they were getting paid for the name I am sure they would not object at all to the name. Everyday it seems like every group wants to find something offensive. The Indians now for the names, the Jews for anyone who dares to disagree with them, etc. We have a legal system for a reason, (yes I know it's not perfect) but all Americans have to abide by it just the same. So spare me your hippie and hypocritical and daydreaming ideas. You don't like America? Feel free to leave at any point.


Wow – "love it or leave it" and a hippie reference. You're taking me back, dude. How dare you disagree with me?

I have been a loyal fan of the Washington Redskins all my life, and I am very attached to my team's name. As a fan, I was happy to see the team wasn't forced to change its name. That makes it hard for me to read an article like yours, because every point you made about the name was absolutely right and there is nothing I can say to defend it. Perhaps in the context of 1930s America, the name and logo was a tribute to Native Americans. But we have made a lot of social progress since then. Now that it is no longer a matter for the courts, perhaps it is time for fans like myself to put aside our attachment for the name of our beloved team and pressure the ownership to voluntarily change it.

Stephens City, Va.

I would hope that would happen, but as you can see, there are a lot of people dug in on this issue. If nothing else, I think it's something you and your fellow fans should be discussing more frequently, in my opinion.

Mike, while as a Patriots fan I bristled with all of your Spygate coverage, I totally agree with you on the Redskins' nickname. How can anyone find an ethnic slur an acceptable name for a professional sports team? If this is the case why don't we call the Cowboys "Pale Faces."

James McPhee
Methuen, Mass.

If nothing else, it would add another layer of meaning to the term "America's Team."

In regards to your views on the Redskins name, I cannot believe some people still think that a word deemed offensive to a significant minority could actually be "honoring" that same group. Not to mention there is some question as to whether the term "redskin" actually comes from the practice of collecting bounties on Native Americans' scalps. This is what sets this term apart from others like Chiefs or Indians (though the Indians logo remains fairly offensive). Would anyone stand for the Louisville Lynches? How about if we put an African-American profile on the helmet and tell people we are honoring their history? Yeah, didn't think so.

Jeremy Blankenship
Waterloo, Iowa

I hear you, but for whatever reason, there is a large and audible portion of the Native American population that isn't bothered by it, which further complicates the debate.

Add me to that list of Indigenous People (note: not Native American) finding great respect in the Redskins. I think that we are more than just a handful. How much indigenous blood runs in your veins? Less than mine, I'm pretty sure. I noted how you even avoided the word "Indians" in your column, so I can only assume that that name is also on your list. Are you as offended about the Edmonton Eskimos? These people are the Inuit and consider Eskimo a racial slur. Once this moniker is banned, do we go after the next "most racist" on your list? At this point, cat lovers should be suing to remove the names Lions and Bengals from their NFL teams (I know, cheap shot). The p.c. crowd went as far as having a former Redskins player turn in his personalized California license plate in 2000 and had the San Diego State Aztecs change their mascot (but not the team name). Such activists are just as indignant about Chiefs, Warriors and Braves and if anything, Chief Wahoo should be target No. 1 (which is just silly to me, not offensive). Last time I checked, a handful of people does constitute an outpouring of indignation. By your reasoning, if a handful of Irish people sue to drop the "fighting" out of Fighting Irish, this ethnically-based stereotype should also be eliminated. Here's a solution: You know that the Seminole tribe voted to "allow" (and promote!) the Florida State team name, tomahawk chop and all. I'll bet some of those "handful of people" in the Redskins flap find that offensive as well. So let's put it out to the councils of all Indigenous Peoples across the United States. I would respect their decision much more than your or anybody else's pontificating.

Perry K.

So would I. Let's do it, by all means.

God bless Mike for writing about the real meaning behind Washington's silly nickname: Complete annihilation by the puritan pilgrims who came from Europe to "spread the word of God" and are close to making the "American Indian" extinct! I'm full-blooded Miskito Indian (less than 200k in the world) and it's so sad to see Americans celebrate Thanksgiving for they have no idea of what really happened during that time. You're absolutely right about how we now have a compassionate president that can contemplate a change. We can start by telling the truth in the text books that these kids are reading in school. Tell them the truth. Those silly Thanksgiving plays at your local schools and churches? "Cowboys and Indians"? Really? Generations upon generations repeat these silly little "rituals" and are blind. We need to change the way we think and try to seek the truth. Thanksgiving is a time to mourn. Casinos won't do it.

San Jose, Calif.

If Perry's idea of an Indigenous Peoples council meeting can be brought to fruition, it definitely won't be a boring discussion.

Thank you for writing on a public sports forum about the ridiculousness of the Redskins' name. I am a Native American living just a couple hours from D.C. so they're the "local" team. Although it doesn't make my blood boil with hate, it's wrong and I've never respected it. Good call on this one.

Christian M.
Virginia Beach, Va.

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Thank you for the persuasive column about the Redskins' name. I had been on the fence about whether the name should change, and I thought I could see both sides of the issue. However, your comparisons to other "skin" names we could use brought startling clarity to an already compelling argument. I wondered how I hadn't thought of that before, but I guess I'm just used to the name. I'm pretty ashamed of that lack of thoughtfulness. You're my favorite columnist (yes, even when I disagree with you), so I wanted to take this chance to say thanks for being both entertaining and thought provoking.

Washington, D.C.

I think it's probably a positive sign that you hadn't thought of it before – as some emailers suggested, the name's connotation has changed over the years largely because of the franchise's high public profile. In my opinion, that still doesn't make the term defensible, but I'm heartened by the fact that our society continues to evolve to the point where racial and ethnic name-calling can become marginalized and spoof-worthy.

Not a question, just a statement: grow up! I am sick and tired of all you bleeding hearts. I am Italian; how about a team called the Ginies or the Woptasticks? Give it a break! If you're offended, do not support or watch the sport. Give the rest of us a break. I would hope you would have more important things to report. Oh I forgot, you're a sports reporter which means you have nothing to say.

James Vitagliano
Lawrenceburg, Tenn.

Did I just walk onto the set of The Wanderers, or am I just having a really trippy flashback?

Once again, I cannot for the life of me, understand how you keep your job. Redskins! You and your over the top political correctness is sickening. I guess you don't have anything better to do with OTAs going on. Well just change the name to Washington Injuns and be done. Hell with this I am going to ESPN for now on. You suck and thanks for wasting Anglo-Hispanic-African-Korean peoples time with this crap. Idiot!

Duffy Reid

Would Injuns be more absurd than Redskins? In my opinion, it's a tough call.

Michael, I agree with your comments on the disgraceful use of the Redskins as a team name, but you could have used much more offensive language to make your point since, painfully, so few fans get how offensive Redskins is. Sure, the low-IQ types will scream, "It's just a name," "It's too late to change it,",or "we're becoming too PC," but would they root for the following? New York N(expletive), New Jersey Jews, California Crackers, San Antonio S(expletive)? Of course not, so why is a racist term for American Indians acceptable when none of the above would ever be allowed to exist today, history or no history? Love your writing, keep up the good work and on with the revolution!

Rob O'Keefe
Novi, Mich.

Thanks for taking the offensive-language ball and running with it on my behalf.

Don't you think you overreacting just a tad on your dissapproval of the Washington D.C. team nickname, Redskins? I could see if they were called the murdering, butchering yelping Redskins, but they are not. Does this mean that the Cleveland Indians become the Cleveland Native Americans? The Pittsburg Pirates must change their name because it offends the real pirates in Sommola? Oh, lets not forget The Duke Blue Devils (the devil might get you). The San Francisco Giants might changed because the name giant might offend anyone over 6-foot-5 tall. It makes me sick that sometimes we must cantor to PC's like you. I thought it was a joke when some years ago The Standford Indians become the Standford Cardinal. It seams safe to name your team after an animal, bird, or location. Give us a break, its just plain rediculious!

Jerry Watts
West Grove, Pa.

When is "ridiculous" even more ridiculous? When it's spelled "rediculious." Irony aside, I don't buy the comparison of Redskins/Indians to Giants, Blue Devils, Pirates and other examples many of you have suggested. This is not a PC, let's-not-offend-anyone campaign; this is a call for basic decency and the elimination of a blatant slur as the nickname of a prominent sports team. I personally believe that any non-sanctioned nickname invoking Native Americans is unnecessary, but Redskins is clearly far more objectionable than any of the others. As for Stanford, while I applaud the change the university instituted in the early '70s, Cardinal remains an objectionable nickname to those of us who bleed blue-and-gold – but only because of the rivalry. (And don't get me started on that insufferable Tree mascot …)

Marge Schott and the Foreskins; classic. Thanks for the good laugh!

Adam Reinke
Asheville, N.C.

I'm glad somebody's laughing.

Oh please spare me from your "politically-correct" rant on the nickname "Redskins". You obviously are a perverted left wing loon who thinks we need to change every nickname so it can be used in the context of the politically-correct environment. You really disappoint me as; not only a journalist, but as a human being. My nephews are Silvers; I just hope we aren't related. I would hate to have your PC genes.

John F. Hahn
Lakeland, Fla.

Clearly, anyone on the left – or, in this case, who disappoints you as a human being – is a perverted loon. Make sure to teach that to your nephews before they're old enough to think for themselves.

Obviously a liberal PC kind of guy aren't you Mike? Look, there's lots of things that offend me everyday. Does that mean that the government is going to accommodate me on everything that bothers me? I think not. As a conservative Christian, I am enemy No. 1 in this country. You think anyone cares that we make up the majority of the world's population? It doesn't make our voices any louder; it just makes us a bigger target. If you are going to flame this much about something, at least do it on a subject that really matters.


Conservative Christians make up the majority of the world's population? Jesus.

It's because of over-sensitive people like you that the majority of us have to fight to use the word Christmas, have Christmas lights up in our cities, etc. … Pathetic.

Fort Collins, Colo.

Did I say I was against Christmas lights, or the name "Redskins"? I'm a little confused.

"And if you're angrily composing an email telling me how the name's meaning to you and your fellow fans supersedes the desires of these people not to be publicly lampooned, I'm going to bet my last Abe Lincoln note that you're not a member of a traditionally oppressed minority group." Thank you for that statement. I think far too often members of the white majority dismiss claims of racial insensitivity, and this has everything to do with an inability to empathize with oppressed minorities. While there is something to be said about the tradition of a sports team, however, there is far more to be said about the suffering and public mockery being made of a group of people who have called this land "home" long before anyone else did.

Ashwin Sridharan
New York

I don't understand why empathy is such a contentious concept for so many of the people who reacted strongly to this column, but then again, I'm the guy who stole Christmas.

The only way the poor, poor Indians are being treated any differently is because they do not pay any taxes whatsoever! When they start paying taxes, I'll agree that the Redskins should change their name. Until then, screw em!

Rome, N.Y.


Hello Mr. Silver, I very much appreciate your take on the Washington naming issue. I also refuse to say the name of the team and I boycott whenever one of the N.Y. teams play them. However, one thing you might add is that the name 'Redskins" has a different history, and is even more of a racial slur than say "Brownskins." Therefore, as an Afrikan, I say the equivalent would be to name a Chicago team after the N-word which is about as abrasive, if not just a little more than, as the term 'Redskin." The fact that Washington can still get away with using this kind of term shows exactly how little has really changed in our society. Right on Mr. Silver.

New York

Sadly, I think a true boycott – of watching the franchise play in person and on television and of buying its merchandise – would be the most likely way to effect change. And if you're someone who loves football, that's a tough protest to execute.

Michael, If you are so opposed to the name, "Redskins," that's fine, but don't ask the government to ban it. We enjoy a right to free speech (not a right to not be offended). Go ahead and urge fans, businesses, etc. to push the organization to change its name by writing letters, boycotting, or not doing business with the team. Along those lines – it seems to me that as an NFL reporter, you more or less make a living off of an organization that condones something that you find morally unconscionable. It's kind of like a pimp with a deep moral aversion to prostitution.

Sacramento, Calif.

Wow – when I told NFL players during my early days at Sports Illustrated that I was a "pimp," I didn't realize what I was getting into. On a more serious note, as you can see from my response to the previous email, I think you've raised some valid points. The point of my column was not to declare that the government should ban the name. Instead, I wanted to register my deep objections to it and throw it out there for public discussion, in the hope that the paying customers (and that includes anyone who watches the NFL on TV, which is basically everyone) would launch a movement for change.

Mike, I don't have a question but I wanted to commend your article concerning the Redskins team name. I am and have been outraged. I also find it incomprehensible that the Redskins' identity carries on without even raising the eyebrows of most NFL fans. I too find it a national embarrassment. As I understand the history of the term, its origin comes from our earliest days as a nation. Sounds like a potentially proud source. In those times of early settlers and expansion, bounties were paid for the skins of then-considered undesirable creatures like wolves, bears, other animals, and, yes, the current human inhabitants as well. This policy was promoted with the clear intention of encouraging the extermination of living beings the settlers didn't care to cohabitate with. In my mind, to employ the term is to continue to imply that this bounty is the sole value of our nation's most American of peoples and also continue to endorse a hateful policy. Not to mention the level of willful callousness it requires to ignore or pay lawyers to legally resist in our courts the outcries of a minority. I thought one of this nation's founding principles was each citizen's rights and dignity. If I was to attempt a comparison, as you did in your article, I would simply start naming our teams with the most offensive racial slurs. This would surely elicit a strong negative response from Americans. Why this same reaction is not forthcoming from all of us for our Native American brethren is beyond me. Maybe we are determinedly conditioned to be insensitive towards them as a people in order to cope with the uncomfortable reality that we came to populate this country at their expense. I can understand the desire to associate with the history of warrior peoples to represent a team's fighting spirit – the Trojans, Spartans, Patriots, and Vikings come to mind. The term Redskins only associates with the offensive. If a team wants to respectfully link themselves to the history of our indigenous peoples, maybe they should consult with them to determine how best to do this. Maybe in this way we could honor rather than ignore Native Americans and our shared culture. That would be better than any team stubbornly clamping their hands over their ears to all reason and complaints. This behavior reminds me that ignorance is the root of racism. It also makes me cringe when I think about the example with which we are instructing our young Americans when we allow it to continue. Then again maybe Native Americans would prefer not to have their identities exploited, caricatured, and sold for someone else's profit.

Jesse Corning

Since Trippin' is not a democracy, and I am the one in charge, I'm going to make this the last word on the subject (at least for this week). Thanks for reminding us that basic decency and sensitivity are noble ideals for which no American should ever have to apologize – and thanks to all of you for reading and providing feedback.