The Redskins will never change their name (says Daniel Snyder), but they will spend money to try to help stem the slowly-but-surely growing tide of disorganized opposition to it.
And with each move the Redskins make to prop up a name that, unlike any other name of any other professional sports team, some people find offensive, more people who find it offensive become more willing to speak out — and more people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the issue have the occasion to conclude that there’s something not quite kosher about the name.
The team’s decision to hire Frank Luntz to conduct a focus group undoubtedly aimed at crafting a better defense to the ongoing use of the name constitutes an implicit acknowledgement that the boat has sprung a leak. But the effort to plug the leak could cause more leaks by creating more coverage and, in turn, fueling the movement to change the name.
Some of that coverage has included a recent tweet from Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post that contains an image of text from a New York Times article written in the days when “Redskins” universally was regarded as an appropriate term.
Under the title “Indian Uprising,” Arthur Daley wrote, “Those pesky varmints, the Redskins, are on the warpath again. For many moons they had remained on the reservations with their squaws, tilling their fields and bothering no one.”
The article continued, with reference to the “great warrior chief” Sammy Baugh, calling Baugh’s Redskins “terrors of the plains” who “wreaked destruction everywhere” via Baugh’s “flaming torch” flung with “deadly accuracy, [and] settlements were burned to cinders.” After Baugh’s retirement, however, the Redskins “became smokers of peace pipes.”
Anyone who would write an article like that today wouldn’t be writing many more articles for money.
The ongoing use of the name Redskins has prompted a very different article, published earlier this month by The Daily Beast. In it, Michael Tomasky reviews the racist history of George Preston Marshall, the man who coined the term.
Tomasky points out that, when Marshall died in 1969, the bulk of his estate funded a foundation that was prohibited from contributing to “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” Before that, Marshall had resisted the integration of pro football, becoming the last owner to hire an African-American player.
Yes, Marshall came up with Redskins because the mother of coach William “Lone Star” Dietz was thought to be part Sioux. And at a time when the NFL was regarded by many to be as legitimate (or illegitimate) as professional wrestling, Marshall had Dietz wear war paint and a feather headdress on game days.
So the history of the origin of the name can’t be fully appreciated without considering Marshall’s own history. Which means that Luntz will definitely be earning his money, if/when the movement against the name figures out that tying it to Marshall could help push the needle.
One man currently pushing the needle is former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who recently tweeted his opinion that the Redskins name is “highly offensive.”
In hindsight, the Redskins may decide that the smarter move would have been to let the mostly sleeping dog lie.