The Nepean Redskins are in a mess of trouble because of their name and we’re going to deal with it in our usual straightforward manner. For those too lazy to follow the link, the Nepean Redskins are a tackle football team for kids in the National Capital Amateur Football Association with various divisions for players age 8 to 19 around our hometown of Ottawa. The beef is with the name “Redskins”
Some consider the name Redskins, unless you are referring to peanuts or potatoes to be racist. Considering the Nepean Redskins logo is a stylized First Nations caricature, we’re fairly certain they’re not conjuring up images of spuds. Which brings us to the sticking point of the question. Is the name offensive to First Nations or are we being over-sensitive?
Looking through the other end of the telescope, would you consider the following mythical team names offensive?
Picton County Picaninnys
Chattanooga Fighting Chinks
Tampa Bay White Trash
Of course you would. They’re offensive, conjuring up stereotypes of ethnic groups, using derisive terms that we have mostly abandoned from our regular speech. Redskins is no different, in that it was a derisive term for North American aboriginal peoples that we commonly call First Nations.
Now before you get up on your back legs, consider these: The Atlanta Braves. The Chicago Black Hawks. University of Illinois Fighting Illini. Cleveland Indians.
Again, a somewhat dicey use of stereotypes to describe a sporting team. The University of Illinois Fighting Illini have had their share of grief, as recently as 2007, with Chief Illiniwek being the made-up, non-historical mascot of the University of Illinois. “Illinois” itself is a Hobson-Jobson of irenew wa through Ojibwe and Ottawa dialects, into French, meaning “he speaks the regular way” from as early as 1670 in the current spelling of “Illinois”
For that matter, we find some offense with “Indians” The only reason North American aboriginal peoples are called “Indians” is because of Christopher Columbus. He was absolutely positive he landed in India in 1492, therefore anyone who was already there had to be Indian. The name stuck but it’s horribly inaccurate. We much prefer to use either First Nations or Aboriginal to describe those who met the boats. At least Columbus didn’t call them what he likely said when he got off the Santa Maria: We’d be swamped with hundreds of branches of the Fuckawyu tribes across our continent.
To simplify, as we should, one would not consider calling a sports team the Cuyahoga Chinamen. Therefore would we consider calling another sports team the Redskins? No.
However, there is another side to being overly politically correct and that is historical accuracy. We can’t rename the Negro Baseball League to the African American Baseball League as the Negro League was the actual, legal name. There has to be an element of tolerance for what existed in the past, historically, no matter how inappropriate it is today. For example, rooming houses in the 1800’s in New York City would have signs that said “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs, No Irish” proudly displayed out front. That was the social reality of that time period and we can’t change that without forfeiting where we’ve come from. Sanitizing history does not make the future better.
At the same time, there are always exceptions. Kinky Friedman had a great band named Kinky Friedman the Texas Jewboys. Despite the offensive name, we’ll cut Friedman some slack as the whole operation was a hellacious satire: There has to be some grey areas in there for outrageous fun. Very little in our world is black or white.
So what to do now? The Nepean Redskins have been the Redskins since 1981 or so. The Cleveland Indians were previously the Blues, Naps and Molly McGuires eventually coming to the Cleveland Indians in 1915.
What we have to do is to be sensitive about it and still use common sense. Nepean should look at changing the name of the team to something less fraught. Not this afternoon, or even this season, but at least recognize that Redskins isn’t quite appropriate and work towards a new name sooner rather than later.
We will respectfully suggest either the Nepean Sandstones or the Nepean Quarrymen, both associated with two common features of Nepean. Both are tolerable names that are butch enough to be acceptable to a kid’s football team, or more correctly to the parents of the players. Nobody wants a bumper sticker saying “My Kid Plays for the Nepean Cello Stringers” and the parents pay the shot.
And we’re certain someone will bitch about Quarrymen as it’s sexist. Oh well.