Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is literally wrong about everything, vowed this week to boycott Washington Redskins games until team owner Daniel Snyder changes the name. That’s right, the man who lives in the Ritz-Carlton is going to tough it out and give up his Sundays in a luxurious skybox at FedEx Field. How brave.
And on Wednesday, after the U.S. Patent Office, an arm of the Obama administration, issued a ruling to strip Mr. Snyder of trademark rights on the team name, the Nevada Democrat gloated:
“Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it is just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing This issue regarding the name ‘Redskins’ is so important to them. Every time they hear this name, it is a sad reminder of a long tradition of racism and bigotry. Daniel Snyder says this is about tradition. I ask: What tradition? A tradition of racism is all that name leaves in its wake.”
But, again, Mr. Reid is wrong. Completely and totally wrong.
The online Oxford Dictionary says this: “‘Redskin’ is first recorded in the late 17th century and was applied to the Algonquian peoples generally, but specifically to the Delaware (who lived in what is now southern New York state and New York City, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania). Redskin referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint.”
What was that, Harry?
Smithsonian Institution senior linguist Ives Goddard (who might just be a bit more trustworthy than Mr. Reid) went further, saying in 2005 that the term’s genesis was not derogatory. When it first appeared, “it came in the most respectful context and at the highest level,” Mr. Goddard told The Washington Post. “These are white people and Indians talking together, with the white people trying to ingratiate themselves.”
In fact, Mr. Goddard found, the earliest usages of “redskin” came from American Indians themselves in “statements made in 1769 by Illinois tribal chiefs involved in delicate negotiations with the British to switch loyalties away from the French,” the Post wrote.
“‘I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself,’ said one statement attributed to a chief named Mosquito. ‘And if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life.’ The French used the phrase ‘peaux rouges’ — literally ‘red skins’ — to translate the chief’s words.”
In many ways, the word “redskin” is much like terms used to describe black Americans. In Mark Twain’s day, he used what is now considered the most vulgar of racial terms, the N word. Then, the term “colored” became the preferred nomenclature (and still exists in the name of the NAACP — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
At the time, “black” was considered offensive, and later, so was “colored,” so that term was superseded by “negro.” That, too, still exists in places (the United Negro College Fund). Then, “black” returned, and some started to use the term “African American” (even though many blacks disavow the moniker).
Still, the Oxford Dictionary deems “redskin” to be “dated or offensive.” Dictionary.com says the word is “often disparaging.” Merriam-Webster says the term is “usually offensive.”
While dozens of high schools across America have dropped the name, becoming the Utes or RedHawks or Raiders or Braves or Rams, three with a majority of American Indians in their student bodies have kept the name “Redskins,” in honor of their heritage.
More, there’s controversy over whether American Indians even find the word offensive. “Most American Indians say that calling Washington’s professional football team the ‘Redskins’ does not bother them,” the National Annenberg Election Survey reported in 2004. “Ninety percent of Indians took that position, while 9 percent said they found the name ‘offensive,’” the poll found.
Even more, a January 2014 AP survey found that 83 percent of U.S. adults would not change the name.
But let’s be frank: It is kind of an odd term. We wouldn’t be OK with “the Washington Blackskins” or the “DC Yellowskins,” so isn’t any color just the same? The first name of the Washington Redskins when it was founded was the Washington Braves (there were four American Indians on the team), so couldn’t Mr. Snyder just return to that name?
Maybe. But the PC police, and hard core liberals like Mr. Reid, would crow. They’ll see any name change as a victory, and worse — let’s be just as frank — move on to the next thing they find offensive. You know how thin-skinned and easily offended the members of the Tolerance Party can be.
But in the end, doesn’t America have more to worry about than the name of an NFL football team? And if 83 percent of Americans — and 90 percent of American Indians — don’t find the word offensive, shouldn’t that rule the day?
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.