Aired Nov. 2, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/rInYlSN4Gpg
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of November 3rd, 2013.
In 1932, the Boston Braves football team changed their name to another Indian-related moniker: the Redskins. A few years later, they moved to Washington D.C., but they kept their name and have ever since. No one really paid attention to whether the name “Redskins” was offensive – not until 1992, when a group of Native Americans filed a trademark lawsuit against the team. The details are too complicated for me to explain here – because I have no idea what the hell they are. But I do know that arguing went back and forth in the courts for nearly two decades, and still, nobody really gave a crap. But recent times and sensitivities have changed, and there’s a legitimate movement afoot to get the Washington Redskins to change their name to something that doesn’t bring to mind tomahawks, smoke signals and sunburned skin color.
Team owners remain adamant that the Redskins have an 80-year history that would be needlessly negated by a name change. Not to mention the cost of changing the signage on everything from souvenir jackets to Rex Grossman bobblehead dolls. And let’s not forget having to change all the signs at Washington’s Jack Kent Cooke Stadium – wait, that was changed to FedEx Field in 2000. How terribly sad for the undying legacy of Jack Kent Cooke. I guess.
Anyhoo, people who are against keeping the Redskins ruby tinted always use this example: What if you had the same situation with a different ethnicity? The Florida Yids? The Pittsburgh Polacks? What if there was a basketball team in the NBA called the Darkies? Well, they all are, but you know what I’m saying.
For 80 years, the University of North Dakota nicknamed its team The Fighting Sioux – which sounds pro-Indian until you realize that “Sioux” was a blanket name given by the whites to cover several different Indian tribes. No doubt, the blanket had smallpox on it, too. But hey, if North Dakotans can adapt, why can’t Washingtonians? I realize that asking someone in Washington DC to be flexible is like asking Stephen Hawking to catch a fly ball, but still.
America’s history with its indigenous peoples is one of lies, bullying and bloodshed – which is America’s history with everything. It was only two generations ago that Cowboys and Indians was a game in which the macho anglo, chaps-wearin’, chaw-chewing Cowboys were the good guys trying to tame the savage, sneaky, tomahawk chopping, paint-wearing, ugga-wugga, smoke-signaling red man. Howevermuch scriptwriters tried to make him noble and clever, Tonto was the Lone Ranger’s bitch. Even his name, “tonto,” means stupid in Spanish. I know this because I looked it up – when my junior high school teacher nicknamed me that in Spanish class. I told my parents, and they made her change it. From then on, she called me “hijo de puta,” which she said means “wise one.” I should probably look that one up, too, but I trust her.
Getting back to the Redskins: as someone who comes from an oppressed people – New Yorkers – I empathize with the desire to undo a little piece of ugly history. There’s no good reason not to change the team name if enough people find it derogatory. When teams move, they change – look at the L.A. Dodgers and the Brooklyn Nets. Even the Beatles went through name-revisions. Do you think John, Paul, George and Ringo sat around saying, “No, we can’t change; we have such an important legacy as `The Quarrymen’”?
Of course, the fun part is finding a new name for the Redskins. One blogger suggested “The Washington Monuments,” which is brilliant, especially if it’s a defensive team; you try toppling a monument to get to the end zone. Others have suggested The Washington Warriors, or the Renegades. Then you had the punsters with their government jokes: The Washington Shutdown, The Washington Impasse, The DC Douchebags. And, for those of you getting old enough to eat your steaks in liquid form, how about The Watergates? Or the Reaganomics?
Polls have shown that most people – even Native Americans – are fine with the name “Redskins.” They’re used to it; they’ve even coopted it, the way black people have made the “n” word their own. And by the “n” word, I mean Nikes. Still, why are Americans still eating Aunt Jemima syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice? How many decades have the movies given us fast-talking Hispanic sidekicks, Asian dragon ladies, Italian guidos and Jewish mothers? There’s truth in stereotypes, and even some good things implicit in stereotypes, but there’s also a time to break the mold. So come, Washington Redskins, let’s smoke-um peace pipe and move forward. How? And how.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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