It's high time for Redskins to change nickname

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Owner Daniel Snyder has been quoted as saying, ‘‘We’ll never change the [Redskins] name . . . NEVER.’’ | AP

After their game Sunday against the Denver Broncos, the Bears play the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in their next two games.

Both teams are named for things particular to their area, their history. The Packers honor the Wisconsin meat-packing company that gave Curly Lambeau the $500 he needed to start the Green Bay team in 1919. The 49ers are a tip of the mining hat to the discovery of gold near San Francisco in 1849.

Then, on Dec. 13, the Bears play the Washington Redskins.

There already are media outlets that refuse to say that nickname, simply referring to the team as ‘‘Washington.’’

‘‘Redskins’’ is a pejorative term for Native Americans, an offense to the many tribes that call this country their native land. And there is no other way to slice it. It isn’t a harmless term. Americans of Irish, Scandinavian or British heritage who say monikers such as Fighting Irish, Vikings, Pilgrims or Fighting Methodists (Northwestern’s old nickname) are just dandy with them don’t have a fair argument to make.

The history of Native Americans in their own land — they are the only people here who aren’t immigrants, remember — hasn’t been a kind one. Much has been taken from them rather than given — or even allowed.

Redskins is a crass, demeaning nickname. Its origin as a word is debatable — some scholars say it originally had no negative connotation and even derived from Native American language — but it no longer is benign.

Because of this, it should go.

When words become offensive because of historical and cultural evolution, they can be retired without anyone feeling guilty. Do we mindlessly use ‘‘retarded,’’ ‘‘spastic’’ or ‘‘crippled’’ to describe people these days? No.

At any rate, the Washington football front office has said it won’t change the name.

Owner Daniel Snyder, voted in a recent Sports Illustrated poll as ‘‘the most hated owner’’ in the NFL, has said: ‘‘We’ll never change the name . . . NEVER.’’

That’s pretty adamant. And sad.

Yes, there is tradition in a treasured sports name. But ask the Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Rams how tradition worked out for them. Change happens.

Now, my personal story:

When I grew up in Peoria, there were eight local high schools. None was as feared and respected in sports as nearby Pekin. And Pekin’s nickname was the Chinks.

It had to do with the alleged fact that this town in central Illinois was exactly opposite geographically from Peking, China. Of course, this wasn’t technically true.

As an acquaintance of mine, Richard Stolley, the former managing editor of Life magazine and a Pekin native, wrote in an essay in Sports Illustrated this week: ‘‘If you dug through the earth [from Pekin], you’d come up in the Indian Ocean.’’

Stolley, the editor of the Pekin Times as a teenager, used the word ‘‘Chinks’’ all the time in his sports stories. The term wasn’t seen as a negative. Pekin High School had mascots called ‘‘Chink’’ (the boy) and ‘‘Chinklette’’ (the girl), who dressed in Chinese silks and whacked a gong every time their team scored.

And those teams scored a lot.

While I was playing at Richwoods High School, across the Illinois River, Pekin’s football teams kicked our butts every time we played and their basketball teams won the state title in 1964 and 1967, my freshman and senior years.

That 1967 team, which smoked our Knights’ behinds, won its games in the state tourney by an average of 22.7 points. To play at Pekin’s huge, modern gym — with all the screaming and arrogance and cheers of ‘‘Chinks!’’ — was to know intimidation and humiliation.

There was nothing in anybody’s minds about ‘‘Chinks’’ being a pejorative term. To be honest, I don’t know if there was a Chinese family living in Peoria or Tazewell counties, where our conference lay.

Then it all changed.

As Stolley wrote in his essay, when the National Organization of Chinese-Americans visited Pekin in 1974 to protest and ask for the nickname to be changed, the Pekin Chamber of Commerce said it ‘‘was chagrined to find out the word ‘Chink’ was derogatory.’’

That sounds insane now, but I get it. I was kid down there, and that’s how it was.

And ‘‘was’’ is the operative word. Welcome to the real

world, all of us.

Pekin dropped Chinks for Dragons in 1980, and nobody keeled over dead from horror. There were — and apparently still are — some angry old Pekin High alums. But they’ll get over it (hopefully) before they die.

It took one man to change it all, a new Pekin school superintendent named James Elliott, who was hired from a Chicago suburb in 1980. Boom. Done.

Where is that strong man in the NFL?

Snyder? Forget it.

Commissioner Roger Goodell? Like so many others in the league, he’s too busy counting his paychecks.

So retro. So mercenary. So sad.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.


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