Yes, the name “Redskins” is an anachronism, but it is a harmless one. It isn’t meant as a statement of how people should refer to Native Americans, nor would any rational person take it as such. A team nickname is a highly stylized symbol utterly removed from reality. Are we supposed to believe that the team’s cheerleaders are popularly known as the Redskinettes because that’s what people think Native Americans called their women?
In an ecstatic Pittsburgh, baseball fans have been waving black flags with skulls and crossbones to root on their surprising Pirates. No one stops to object that the Barbary pirates did terrible things centuries ago, as do Somali pirates today, and therefore everyone in Pittsburgh is making light of murder and mayhem on the high seas. This would obviously be an absurd overinterpretation of an innocent team nickname and the good-natured spiritedness surrounding it.
But absurd overinterpretation is endemic to the anti-Redskins case. Psychologist Michael Friedman, Ph.D., seriously maintains, “Not only does the use of this slur risk causing direct damage to the mental and physical health of our country’s Native American population, it also puts us all at risk for both participating in and being harmed by ongoing prejudice.” On the website Salon, English professor Steven Salaita argues that the nickname involves “the peculiar disquiet of a whiteness perceived to be in decline.”
This would be news to Redskins fans, who are evidently feeling a rather mundane disquiet over a 1-3 start and the state of star quarterback Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired knee. Sometimes football is just football.
— Rich Lowry may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.