Friday, July 11, 2014

Episode 23: Washington Redskins

Sorry for the technical difficulties I had the last few days. Here is my quasi-debate on the issue of the Washington Redskins. The podcast is a little over an hour long. I know I said I would try not to do that so often, but in reality this is two half-hour interviews. So, that's not too bad.

The first 35 minutes or so is my discussion with Mike Stanton. I have known Mike for 8 or 9 years and I like him. He was on the newspaper staff at Concord University when I was the Editor-in-Chief. He had a popular sports column and had a good following. Some may not have liked him, but everybody knew who he was. I'm kind of the same way; maybe that's why we get along so well.

Mike is a big Washington Redskins fan and was eager to defend the usage of the team nickname. For Mike's interview, I ask him to give some background on the history of the team and some information about the team owner, Dan Snyder. One would think I asked him beforehand to get this information; no, I knew he would have this stuff off the top of his head. And, he did.

Mike talks a lot about politics and the fact that we live in such a politically correct world. Mike tries to look at the fact that the team name carries a connotation of pride and success and all that other good stuff. He cites polls saying that Native Americans themselves like the name and also brings up the double standard of team names like "Fighting Irish" and others.

The next part of the interview is Johnnie Jae, a lady I found on Twitter. Click here to read the "preview" blog that explains more about how I got in contact with her. Johnnie is a Native American living in Oklahoma. She is involved with the "Native Max" magazine and "A Tribe Called Geek." Indigenous issues are important to her and she is very passionate about wanting to get rid of the Washington team name.

As is common in debates, Mike brings up one side and - without me really telling her much of what Mike said - Johnnie brings up the exact opposite point. Mike says the name should be a sense of pride. Johnnie talks about how their is no pride in mocking Native American culture.

Below is a partial transcript of their interviews. Mike is first, followed by Johnnie. 

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Mike Stanton


I grew up in the Springfield, Virginia area where actually is where I’m at now. And, that’s just a suburb, like Northern Virginia, just outside of DC. I’ve always been a sports fan; grew up playing soccer. And, people always told me I had a voice for radio and all that good stuff and to go into broadcasting. Once I ran out of talent as a middle school soccer player I shifted gears to other sports and I’ve always been a big Redskins fan. With the Redskins, since I’m from the DC area, I’m a big DC sports fan. I’ve been a big Redskins fan, especially since the first grade when they wound up winning the Super Bowl that year, over Buffalo. I’ve been a diehard fan of them ever since. A little known fact about me is that I actually taught myself how to read, so I could read the sports page.

Concord University newspaper, The Concordian...

I absolutely loved it. You’re able to go to different games on campus and, unfortunately when I was Sports Editor that was around the time that the football team was actually 0-11 that year. And, then they had the transition and a couple coaches later they are a winning team and the champs every year they compete. I wanted that every year I was in college, but never really had that luxury. But, covering campus sports was, whether it was Concord football, basketball, soccer, on both men’s and women’s sides, it was just a cool aspect of Division II sports.

Redskins owner, Dan Snyder...

He actually bought the team in 98-99. He was originally from Maryland. He was a lifelong Redskins fan before he bought the team. He wound up buying the team because what happened was the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, passed away. And instead of passing the team down to his son, John Kent Cooke, he put the team up for auction in his will, which kind of messed up his family’s chance of getting it. And, then Dan Snyder wound up having the top bid and the rest is history that way. He has owned the team since ‘99 and the year after he bought the team they changed the name of their stadium from Jack Kent Cooke stadium, which was named after the previous owner, to FedEx Field, who’s the sponsor right now. Actually, with the Redskins name controversy, people are trying to get FedEx now to comment one way or the other and they’re saying “No comment” right now.

Washington Redskins controversy...

I think the main reason there’s a controversy is because we’re in a place of overblown political correctness where people just look for something to be offended by. With the Redskins name, it comes up every so often, but it also usually comes up when the team has success. Whereas, usually when they’re struggling and out of the media’s eye, you never really hear anything. I think you’re hearing it a lot more because more people in higher influence, like for example, Harry Reed, President Obama, have jumped into the controversy saying it’s offensive. The thing about them is, they might be saying it’s offensive but they might not know the background of it. They’re just saying it’s offensive because we’re going off of a few Indian tribes who are saying it’s offensive and not going over the whole landscape where the whole majority do not find it as an offensive term.

To me, it means pride and all that good stuff and tradition. It’s essentially an old Indian word, with the media right now, you’d almost think it was a racial term brought forth by a white man. But, it’s actually an old Indian word. Basically, you know how you have war paint and all that. With Indians, they would actually have this paint, I forget what kind of berry it came from, but it was actually like an insect repellent that they would use and it would make their skin look red. That’s how redskin came about that way. It wasn’t a derogatory term about a skin color or anything. It was basically the way the skin looked after getting a little bit of food coloring from the berries and stuff that way.

There are some, but I think some are offended by it to be offended by it, if that makes any sense. You also have a majority of Indian tribes who love the name and have even come forth saying that they find it offensive if they change the name. They find it as pride and tradition, and you have a lot of Indian reservations that actually have high school nicknames as the Redskins. You have a lot of Indian tribes who find the name to be a positive.

Other teams changing their name...

I think just political correctness. To me, it’s almost the equivalent of around Christmas time, people want the nativity scene up and all that, but you have the one person who finds it offensive so they cater to that one person instead of the others, where 99 people would want something and one person wouldn’t, but that one person would get their way. Like, a lot of schools changed because, Miami of Ohio was the Redskins and now they’re the Red Hawks and then, Stanford was the Indians and now they’re the Cardinals. Granted, their Cardinal is the color, as opposed to the bird Cardinal, but that’s another story. But, it’s just one of those where a lot of those groups just cave into the political correctness. They change it because they think it’s offensive or they change it to appease groups, whereas others don’t want to change it.

An example of that is North Dakota, they’re the Fighting Sioux. They don’t want to change the name even though they’re being forced and there are Sioux in the area who are supporting them. And then you have the Florida State Seminoles actually have the backing of the Seminoles and they’re still the Seminoles. A lot of people just find something to be offended by. Right now, the Redskins aren’t the only name that has a little bit of controversy. You still have the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks. Even PETA is trying to get the animal names of all the teams changed because it’s offensive to animals. One thing that if they happen to ever change the Redskins name, is to go after a few other names. I’m Irish and I like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but that’s offensive to Irish because not all Irish people are drunks. Granted, sometimes we might be, but it’s one of those things where sometimes it’s offensive. 

Will the name change...  

Fifty-fifty. I don’t want it change, but it might be a policial correctness thing where it would not surprise me if within a year or two, to bring Donald Sterling into this, the owner of the Clippers who had racist comments and is being forced to sell the Clippers. It wouldn’t surprise me if if comes to a point where Dan Snyder refuses to change the name and then they’re like “Since you refuse to change the name, we’ll take the team aways from and then we’ll change the name.” Which, that would obviously be a couple billion dollar lawsuit, right there, obviously, because the Redskins are the fourth-most expensive franchise in the world, behind Manchester United, the Dallas Cowboys, and New England Patriots. So, having almost like a forced thing, because I don’t think Dan Snyder would change the name; he’s basically said he’s not. I think if they ever do, it would be something like Bravehearts or Warriors. As a Redskins fan, it would be hard, I would still root for the team, but myself and the majority would still be calling them the Redskins.

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Johnnie Jae

Native Max & A Tribe Called Geek...

Native Max is kind of, it’s all indigenous, and it focuses on fashion, so we feature a lof of our - I guess you could say we kind of get away from stereotypes. Basically our main goal is to show that we are modern people and, you know, when you think about fashion in the mainstream world it’s, you know, desecration of the war bonnet, it’s the hokey so-called Navajo print designs that you see on, like, Urban Outfitters. It’s just, kind of like, we wanted to show the other side, that we do have indigenous fashion designers and that you can be inspired by Native American culture without being offensive. We actually have a policy in place at our magazine where we will not feature any woman or man who has not earned a war bonnet in our magazine. We try to respect our, I guess you could say we try to respect everybody’s different cultures. That’s one of the reasons we started the magazine - to show the other side.

With A Tribe Called Geek, it’s kind of the same thing. I’m a geek and I’m into pop culture. Like, I love “Dr. Who” and I love sci fi, and I’m a comic book nerd. So, I wanted to kind of show that we are more modern and that we’re not, basically we’re not the stereotypes that people think.

Washington Redskins controversy...

I guess you would say it’s the last remnant of outright embracing of racist ideology. You know, if it was called like the Washington Asians or the, and I hate using slurs, so I’ll use the general terms. It’s the same thing. There’s no other team that is called the Redskins. It’s not the White skins or the Yellow skins. It’s just - come on, it’s 2014 and for me, knowing the history of the terms. Historically, it was just a more humane way of people to say “Oh hey, we’re gonna call redskins” instead of “Oh hey, we’re gonna call for Indian skins.” Because back then, they did trade scalps like they would trade fur or rabbit skin or deer skin. It was the same thing.

All this gets lost because they’re not taught this in history. Like, when you’re in history classes, you don’t really get a look at Native American history. You get like a little skim over. It’s kind of, you get a skewed perspective of Native American history. You don’t really get into, I guess you would say they kind of - what’s the word - they try to make it less horrendous than it really was.

Nobody really knows the history. Nobody really knows where these words originated. And, it’s true - redskins was not originally a slur, but that’s the way it developed and that’s what it means to Native Americans now.

With that name, you know, I think for a lot of Natives it has always been an issue. Kind of going back to the “old school” Natives who never really thought about it back then. For them, it was a way of - and I say this because I have talked to a lot of different Natives and have a lot of different viewpoints on it, so I understand where they’re coming from a little - and because a lot of them feel the term redskins is just a way to have us being represented in the mainstream. It’s like we’re not forgotten. Because a lot of people do think that without the redskins name that we’re going to fade from existence somehow. And, that’s just not true. Because now we have natives who are actually professional athletes.

Connotations of pride...

Well, I kind of laugh. I want to say show me one good thing that’s come from the name. Show me something positive that has come from the use of the name because when you’re looking at it from a Native perspective, if you go to a game and see people mocking your culture, you know, wearing the headdresses, just kind of mocking the whole thing. It promotes mockery of our culture and our people and it’s dehumanizing. Like, there’s no pride in this. I mean, when you go to the game and you see these people dressed up, that’s not pride. That’s not a way of honoring Native Americans. That’s a way of mocking Native Americans. Even if you don’t understand that, that’s what it’s doing and that’s what it’s promoting. 

When did this become an issue...

I grew up in a football-fanatic family. And, my brothers and my dad are actually Redskins fans. And, one of my brothers is a fan of the Chiefs. And, that’s kind of where I had the ideology coming in of “It’s a term of pride; it’s representing Natives and we should just be proud they’re using Native mascots.” And it’s like, no, because from my perspective whether people realize it or not, from the mainstream, they don’t have to deal with issues that we do. They don’t see the other side; they don’t see the effect that it has on Native American people. There’s been psychological studies that have shown that the use of Native mascots affects the way we view ourselves as Native people. You know, it lowers our self esteem and can cause trouble with your confidence. And, on the flip side of that, it actually raises self confidence and feelings of self worth in non-Natives.

That’s one of the reasons that I feel is such a big part of this is that people do feel good because, by supporting the Redskins, maybe they do see that as a way of supporting Native Americans. And, you know, I guess it’s kind of like, maybe colonization wasn’t so bad, maybe the genocide of Native people wasn’t that bad as long as we support the Redskins or the Indians or whatever. And, that’s kind of like how the use of the mascots and the use of terms like Redskins, or using the Indians as a team name, that’s kind of how that came in to try and correct things a little bit.

Positive Native mascot usage...

With the Seminoles, it’s a Native mascot. And, while the tribes there in Florida did approve the use of the name, they’re not the only Seminole nation. There are other Seminole nations, like here in Oklahoma we have a Seminole nation here and they did not sign off on this. And, you know, a lot of it is it kind of goes back to how people view it. They want their name out there, almost like marketing. Like, even though, I know there’s not going to be a total 100 percent “everybody is against it” there’s always going to be clinging on to the old thought process of “Oh, this brings pride, this is keeping us in the mainstream, this is keeping us in people’s thoughts” but it’s not the way it is and it does have a negative effect on the way indigenous people are viewed and how they are treated and the way that our issues are viewed and treated. That’s one of the big things with here is they say you have bigger issues and I always find that funny because the only time those “bigger issues” are a concern to anybody else outside of the Native community is when it’s messing with their football. 


Personally, I would love to see the name changed. I would love to see the elimination of all Native mascots in general. Like I said, it’s dehumanizing and it’s 2014. You know, even from a Native perspective, those who think that we should take pride and we need to be represented, you know, honestly I feel like the athletes that we have in professional sports deserve to be honored and respected for who they are as people and who they are as actual Native Americans and not have to contend with the Native mascots and not look into the stands and see people mocking their people and their culture.

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All that and much, much more is included in my interviews with Mike and Johnnie. Check it out and let me know what you think. You can jump into the conversation here on the blog, on Facebook, or Twitter.

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