A mascot is a brand, a symbol, an icon, a rallying point and a banner of an organization.
“When someone asks your favorite team, you don’t say Washington,” said Guilford College head football coach Chris Rusiewicz. “You say the Redskins.”
But what if that mascot stands for something else?
The Washington Redskins football team has a mascot emblazoned on its helmet with a tainted history that has outlived its welcome in a sport that, according to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s interview with Time Magazine, is still home to active racism.
The direct origin of the word “redskin,” as is the case with the origins of so many words, is shrouded in uncertainty. What is clear is the way it has been used.
Member of the Pawnee nation of Oklahoma and the Smithsonian Institute Kevin Gover described what he had come to know about the use of the word in an interview with Esquire Magazine.
“I’m really not that interested in where the word comes from,” said Gover. “It’s been used in a disparaging way for at least a couple of centuries. “Up to and including the time I was growing up in Oklahoma.”
Wherever the word started, it grew into a symbol of violence during the 1800’s. Newspapers ran ads offering payment for redskins, or, proof of Native American death.
Though the word may not mean exactly what it did then, its evolution has seen it hold onto its derogatory and hurtful edge.
“I do think its offensive,” said junior Timothy Barrows. “You wouldn’t name a team the Washington Blackies.”
The Oxford Dictionary also lists the word as an offensive name for Native Americans.
How can any league or sports community support the continued use of a defined derogatory term?
Skins fans rationalize its use claiming tradition as the reason.
“I don’t know if I would rename the team or not,” said junior Matt Pawlowski, quarterback of the Guilford football team. “The team has been around for a long time, and it seems that only recently it has become a real issue.”
The sentiment seems to be shared between football players and fans.
“I don’t think it’s offensive; they’ve had it for so long,” said sophomore and Washington fan Nick Matt. “It’s a kind of tradition.”
The Redskins organization has carried the name since 1933. Europeans began brutalizing Native Americans in the early 1500’s.
An 81-year history of branding pales in comparison to a 500-year history of prejudice.
Other supporters of the Redskins say it is impossible to please everyone.
“When you look at the arguments (against the Redskins’ name), I think people can be offended by anything,” said Coach Rusiewicz.
“If the name is changed, big time fans and players could be offended.”
Why, then, should we aim to respect fans and players on a football team instead of an entire race of historically prejudiced people? The American government has done so much to hurt these people; can we not just give them this?
Plenty of franchises have changed their names, kept their fan bases and moved on to focus on their sport. The Yankees were the Highlanders, The Wizards were the Bullets and the Astros were the Colt .45’s. What could the Redskins be?
“The Scorpions,” said Rusiewicz.
“The Flying Pandas,” said Nick Matt.
“I just don’t know,” said Barrows.
Giving perhaps the most hopeful suggestion, Guilford Head Women’s Softball Coach Dennis Shores recommended “The Nations.”