Opinion Columns & Blogs

The Washington Redskins: a race against time...

Growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s in the Washington, D.C. area, I was a Washington Redskins fan. Sonny Jurgensen was the quarterback, and the coach was the legendary (this is always the phrase prior to the name I am about to write) Vince Lombardi, best known for his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Interestingly, the manager of the Washington Senators baseball team at the same time was (the legendary, etc.) Ted Williams.

Being a fan of the Redskins, I never gave a second thought to the team’s name. Neither did millions of other Americans who happened to be something other than Native American.

I would describe my ethnicity as so close to lacking in definable ethnicity that it bothers me. Mostly, I would say I am Swedish/Norwegian on one side and English/Danish/Irish on the other. Let’s throw in the Lutheran/Mormon part to make it even more confusing. As a cartoonist friend once put it, I was Northern European Wonder Bread. Consequently, I was never troubled by any discriminatory phraseology or stereotyping per se, as it was pretty much indescribable.

“Hey, you rotten Northern European with Heavy Scandinavian Influence and Polygamy in Your Background, get out of our neighborhood,” was something I never heard.

The Washington Redskins’ owner, Daniel Snyder, is now facing heavy and growing pressure to change the name of his football team. Naturally, there is some opposition to this, mostly from people who aren’t Native American. To a lot of them, this is just more danged political correctness from liberal do-gooders with time on their hands.

This debate about not only the Redskins, but the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, has been going on decades. Many high school and college football teams have been forced to change their team names as well, raising the same outcry from the same people: people who aren’t the object of ridicule from the team name.

Must be pleasant not to be in a historically oppressed group, right? You know, like an immigrant from England in 1607 who “colonized” America as if it hadn’t existed prior to Jamestown. “Old families” populate the east and south, and they act like they own the place. Of course, we don’t really know the names of the old families who happened to be here a few thousand years before the English colonists arrived. Those old families don’t matter, right? Just run them off and shoot them and put them in reservations.

Let’s just take a slice of my own geneology for a moment. Let’s select the Swedes and the Norwegians. Some of my ancestors arrived in Minnesota in the 1870s and 1880s. They ran shops. They were school teachers. They were tailors. Nothing amazing. Not from old families. Just Ohmans and Andersons and Jacobsons and other similarly-monikered immigrants. Yeah, they worked hard. Yeah, it was really cold in Minnesota. And, no, the federal government wasn’t trying to kill them and put them on reservations.

The Norwegians, or “Norskies,” considered themselves way smarter than the “Flatheads,” which is what a lot of them called Swedes. And don’t get me started on what they thought of the Finlanders. Not much, and my relatives told lots and lots of Finlander jokes that I remember. We even had a Finlander joke book at our house in Marquette, Mich. Most of the jokes revolved around how stupid Finns were. If you’re Finnish, my apologies.

My grandparents on that side, who, sadly, I never met because they died in the 1940s, were a mixed marriage: she was Norwegian, and he was Swedish. In that home, he would ask her a question in Swedish, and she would answer in Norwegian. It created a discernable odd lilt in both my father’s and aunt’s voices. They loved each other despite the fact that they both came from rival groups.

Again, they were not persecuted by the federal government. They were white, and, therefore, acceptable to that same federal government. Superior, even. Right? Legally, back then, they were.

So now we have a historically oppressed group, Native Americans (and many others), calling for the changing of the name of a football team. It’s not for the owner of the Washington Redskins to decide whether it’s offensive or not. It’s up to the historically oppressed group to collectively come to that conclusion, and the owner of the Washington Redskins isn’t in that group.

So, listen, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. Wake up.

Change the name of your team. It’s embarrassing. It’s demeaning to a group of fellow Americans.

It’s not about “political correctness.”

It’s about racism.

Bill Curry played for Vince Lombardi when he coached the Green Bay Packers. Curry said in 2011 that the Green Bay Packers were “successful for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was that Vince Lombardi wasn’t a racist.”

Daniel Snyder, perhaps you’ve heard of Vince Lombardi?