NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (
by Tony Petrangelo
Jun 13, 2013, 11:00 AM

Roger Goodell defends legacy of racist

There are four teams in Major League Baseball and the National Football League that still use Native American themed names and imagery for their team identities; the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.

While they all have their own specific problems (Chief Wahoo immediately comes to mind), one of them stands out from the rest as being particularly egregious. That would be the one that describes its subject by skin color, something generally frowned upon these days.

Last month Minnesota’s Fourth district congresswoman Betty McCollum and the rest of the Congressional Native American Caucus wrote a letter to NFL commissioner and failed union breaker Roger Goodell urging him to consider forcing the Washington Redskins to change their name to something a little less racist.

Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.

The commissioners response was predictable, trotting out the old myth concerning the origin of the Redskins name.

As you may know, the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, a name that honored the courage and heritage of Native Americans. The following year, the name was changed to the Redskins – in part to avoid confusion with the Boston baseball team of the same name, but also to honor the team’s then-head coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group.

Not explained by this fanciful tale is how the name Redskin is more honorable than Brave. That’s the part of the story that’s always missing. Probably because the whole story is made-up.

A couple weeks ago Micheal Tomsky at The Daily Beast wrote a piece titled “The Racist Redskins” that cuts through the mythology.

[George] Marshall had made a fortune in the commercial laundry business when he purchased the Boston Braves football team in 1932. His second coach was a man whose mother was thought to be part Sioux. Not known to be—thought to be. And on that flimsy basis, Marshall changed the name, in this coach’s “honor” (even though Marshall fired him after two seasons), from Braves to Redskins. It seems telling that “Braves” was somehow not authentic enough for Marshall.

It’s been known for quite a while that this story wasn’t true. Way back in 2004 Linda Waggoner wrote a five part series debunking the native ancestry of William Dietz:

In order to reclaim James One Star, it’s essential to examine the legacy of the man who virtually replaced him, William Henry Dietz (1884 – 1964), alias “Lone Star.” Though dead for 40 years, Dietz is currently at the center of a controversy where names are significant.

The origin myth of the Redskins name, like the origin myth of Baseball, is a complete fantasy. The reality is that the man who purchased the Boston Braves in 1932, George Preston Marshall, was a seething racist.

When George Preston Marshall died in 1969, he left some money to his children but directed that the bulk of his estate be used to set up a foundation in his name. He attached, however, one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”

And then there’s this:

Most famously of all, Marshall was the last owner to accept a black player—fully 15 years after the ban was lifted. And his team drafted an African-American then (in 1961) only because it was forced to by the government—the then-new stadium that we call RFK Stadium today was built on Department of Interior land, which permitted the Kennedy administration to order the lessee (the team) to adhere to federal nondiscrimination policies.

What Goodell is asking us to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, is that the name change from Braves to Redskins was motivated by this lifelong racist’s desire to honor his Native American head coach who wasn’t really Native American. A head coach that was fired two years later.

And again, this fails to explain how “Redskin” is meant to honor anyone.

More Goodell:

The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.

What Goodell seems to be saying here is; “even if the name is kinda racist now, and I’m not saying that it is, but if it is, the context of its origin story makes it all okay.”

Which is a bullshit argument.

Even if we suspend our disbelief and accept for the moment that the origin story the NFL is pimping is true, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the Washington football team’s name is inherently racist.

From Wikipedia:

Redskin” is a racial descriptor for Native Americans, the origin of which is disputed. Although by some accounts not originally having negative intent [1], the term is now defined by dictionaries of American English as “usually offensive” [2], “disparaging” [3] [4], “insulting” [5], “taboo” [6] and is avoided in public usage with the exception of its continued use as a name for sports teams.

Those citations are each references to unique dictionaries, five in all, that unanimously define Redskin as a derogatory word.

We can be even more basic about it. Would you ever call a Native American a Redskin in an effort to honor that person’s cultural heritage? Or, would it be appropriate for the Washington football team to, in an effort to honor their new franchise Quarterback, change their name to the Blackskins?

People like Roger Goodell who defend the Washington football team’s continued use of Redskin, are doing nothing more than defending the legacy of one of America’s great racists. Good luck with that.

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