What’s in a name? Not much, according to poll on Redskins

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A poster for the “Change the Mascot” campaign is seen prior to a 2014 press conference by the Oneida Indian Nation leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Two years ago, I wrote this about the controversy raging over the use of the Redskins nickname:

When are we going to get it through our heads? The only thing that matters is what Native Americans think. What the filthy rich owner of a sports team or its nostalgic fan base thinks is inconsequential.

And for good measure:

The nickname doesn’t honor Native Americans if they don’t feel honored by it. The rest of us can’t tell them what they should feel good about. We can’t tell them that “Redskins’’ is a noble word when decades of discrimination and depravation tells them something entirely different.

So where does that leave me after a recent Washington Post poll that shows nine in 10 Native Americans aren’t bothered by the nickname? Confused and, frankly, disbelieving.

The Post surveyed 504 Native Americans from a wide array of demographic classes. Here’s the finding that stunned me: Eight in 10 said they wouldn’t be offended if a non-Native American called them “redskin.’’ That had always been the gist of my argument against Washington’s NFL team using the nickname — that, if a Native American were walking across the street, you wouldn’t yell out, “Hey, redskin, you dropped your hat!”

At some level, I think we all know that would be disrespectful. The person saying it would know it was an insult and the person picking up his hat would certainly know it. That’s why I want to see more research done. Maybe the meaning of the word has changed over time. It’s possible that it has softened. But I’m having a hard time buying it. I’m having a hard time buying it’s not a racial slur.

As one tribal lawyer told the New York Times: “It’s a straight-up slur. It’s a dictionary-defined racial slur. It should be a no-brainer — but somehow, it’s not.”

Time to figure out the disconnect.


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