Vincent C. Gray, the Mayor of Washington D.C., today joined the chorus of voices that have been calling on his city's NFL franchise to discard its offensive name.
The team's best season in many years ended Sunday with a playoff game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The conversation about whether to move the team back within the city limits (the team currently plays at FedEx Field, in Maryland), a perennial topic, has returned. But with more passion, now that the Redskins are (in sports parlance) actually good. For Mayor Gray, the team's name is a complicating factor.
“I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington, there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about" the name, Gray said, according to the Washington Post. In some interestingly chosen words, the Mayor said that "the team is going to have to work with us around that issue"—put differently, the inflexibility demonstrated in the past by Redskins ownership (particularly Daniel Snyder) will be unwelcome.
The Mayor added that "There’s a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing," although the Post article made clear that retaining the name would not be a "dealbreaker" in the as-yet-unheld negotiations.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post columnist renewed his own call for a name change in a piece entitled "What's in a Name? The Redskins' Bad Karma."
Courtland Milloy's provocative column is front-loaded with racial innuendo, beginning: "So, Washington football fans, how’s that offensive team name and demeaning sports mascot working out? Whooping and hollering as [quarterback Robert Griffin III] goes on a “Redskins” warpath only to leave a trail of tears when his wounded knee gets buried at FedEx Field."
Milloy traces the "bad karma" — he wisely avoids using the word "curse" — to 1992, when Suzan Shown Harjo led a lawsuit (Harjo et al., v Pro Football, Inc.) that sought to change the name.
Pulling no punches, Milloy, who is African American, asks, "Does anyone really believe that the name 'Redskins' will survive the 21st century? Other than the people who probably thought white actors in blackface would survive the 20th? The genocide of Native peoples, like America’s other original sin, slavery, cannot be forever masked with caricatures of the dead."
Milloy points out the intentional irony in the NMAI's upcoming "Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports" event on February 7.
Milloy also notes that, on Sunday, the victorious team's own imagery was an example of a Native theme done right: The Seahawks, he says, "didn't just score more touchdowns; they won on style points, too."