200719-sports-opinionwashington

Longtime Washington Redskins fan Rodney Johnson adjusts a Redskins magnet on his pickup truck outside FedEx Field after the team announced it will abandon its controversial Redskins team name and logo on Monday. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

It was time to make the change.

With everything going on; from the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality to the banning of the Stars and Bars at all NASCAR events and military installations, a social-reckoning is transpiring (agree with it or not). Relics of our unsavory and racist past are being reevaluated, torn down, or tossed aside. Finally.

And still, the only reason Washington owner Dan Snyder ultimately caved and decided to change the franchises’ controversial name — kicking and screaming along the way — was because it would impact his bottom line; the ultimate enticer.

“I never thought I would see it in my lifetime,” Tony Kornheiser, ESPN'S "Pardon the Interruption" co-host and a former columnist for the Washington Post, said hours after Monday’s announcement.

Kornheiser wrote a column for The Post in 1992 calling for the name to be changed and floated a couple of alternatives, including the “Pigskins” — allowing fans to keep the “skins” tag while paying homage to the franchises’ famous offensive line in the ’80s. But nothing came of it. Snyder bought the team in 1999 and up until two weeks ago, he’s been resolute in keeping the name.

Facing a wave of criticism several years ago, he was quoted in USA TODAY saying, “We’ll never change the name; NEVER — you can use caps.” He would then use an (unverifiable) 2016 survey conducted by The Post, which found that nine in 10 Native Americans polled claimed not to be bothered by the moniker.

But that was before Nike, PepsiCo and FedEx, the latter of which owns the naming rights to the stadium through 2025, threatened to pull their millions unless Snyder changed the name. He had no choice.

As a kid, I always felt the name was offensive on its face. But at the same time, I’m not Native American. However, my wife and her family are members of the Skway First Nation and Nooksack Tribe.

So, this week I did some digging and talked to a few indigenous cousins/uncles across different generations.

Here’s what I found:

The most recent scientific study — done by UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan and members of the Tulalip Tribes and Amah Mutsun Tribal Band — polled more than 1,000 self-identified adult Native Americans representing 50 states and 148 tribes. They found that 57% of those who strongly identify as Native American and 67% of those who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices found the term “Redskin” and other caricatures of Native American culture deeply insulting.

The team’s name dates back nearly 90 years. In 1933 owner George Preston Marshall changed the name from the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins to honor it’s coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who ironically coached WSU to their lone Rose Bowl win in 1916, and claimed to be Native American. It was later disproved in 2013 when The Post’s Richard Leiby reviewed his birth certificate and census records, revealing that Lone Star was born in Rice Lake, Wis., to white parents with German heritage.

The Washington logo, however, was designed in 1971 by Walter "Blackie" Wetzel and depicts Blackfoot Chief Two Guns White Calf. The logo has been a point of pride for members of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and is supported by Wetzel’s son, Lance.

But there isn’t necessarily a consensus among all Native tribes, though opposition against Native-themed mascots began in the '70s. 

“Mascots aren’t really the top issue,” said JJ Jensen, 42, who is the assistant principal at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School in Marysville. “The big issues are recognizing tribes as sovereign nations and honoring treaty rights. On the mascot issue, you’ll get a difference of opinion among tribal members; some find it racist and demeaning while others feel honored. But personally, in these woke times, it’s a good time to ban mascots depicting Native Americans. By and large, they’re stereotypical and inauthentic.”

Mary Big Bull-Lewis, owner of Wenatchi Wear and member of the Wenatchi Tribe, offered a similar assessment, saying she was in favor of the derogatory name being removed.

“I cannot speak on behalf of all Native Americans, but feel that this change is long overdue," she said in a Facebook message. "It is unfortunate that it took recent unjust actions and innocent Black, Indigenous and People of Color deaths to bring this into the light. (But) any sports team or organization that is culturally appropriating Native Americans needs to change. My culture is not a costume and non-natives wearing appropriated headdresses and war paint is offensive.”

Of the five people I interviewed in my wife's family, three found the name offensive while two said they were on the fence.

The general consensus though was that there is a serious lack of education on the Native perspective.

“I remember asking my fourth-grade teacher one day when we were talking about Custer’s last stand why it was a massacre anytime the White guys got killed but a great victory when it was the Native Americans,” Phillip Narte, 60, who is the Tribal Liaison for the WSDOT Ferries said. “I never got a good answer; even though it seemed to me that those Native warriors should be considered some of the most courageous to walk the planet to stand up to people who had guns while only wielding bow and arrows.”

“If anything should be mandated," Narte said, "it’s the teaching in schools from the Native perspective of the circumstances that led to the genocide of Native Americans and forced them to move from their established homelands to reservations.”