Football Name Changes Are Good in the Long Run….I Guess
The Native American Heritage Fund (NAHF) has been active in Michigan, persuading schools to change the names of mascots, and even getting the City of Battle Creek to remove a stained-glass window at City Hall that featured the old city logo. That logo depicted a skirmish between Native Americans and surveyors in 1838. Many people thought removing the window was an unnecessary over-reaction. After all, how many people even noticed the window in a stairwell leading to the top floor of City Hall?
But discussions of such things these days have turned from whether it would offend a majority of people, to whether it would offend any people. And then, we consider the question of whether it matters if a controversial window is displayed in a museum instead of on municipal property? Will it matter in a couple of years if we change the nickname of a sports team? Probably not. It's just a game, football. Marshall changed from Redskins to Redhawks a few years ago, even though very few in the community wanted to. It's water under the bridge now. We do what we can to get along. We move on. I guess.
There have been some high profile surveys on the use of “Redskins” by the NFL team in our nation’s capital. Surprisingly to many, me included, Native Americans haven’t traditionally shown much concern over the use of the name in several surveys. In 2004, a poll of 768 self-identified Native Americans found just 9% were offended by the name. In 2016, a survey by the Washington Post of 504 people across every state found just 10% were offended. A recent survey by UC Berkeley found 49% were offended.
After the publication of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in 1971, a variety of Native American organizations asked the Washington team to change the name. They didn’t change it but did change the logo. Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, the former chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, convinced the team to drop the “R” logo on the helmets in favor of the profile of an Indian warrior, which he helped design. Wetzel’s son, Lance, says the dropping of the logo is hard. “It’s disheartening. I think that it takes away from Native Americans because that logo represented who we are and its connections to the Blackfeet Nation. I think there was an opportunity for educating people across the nation who didn’t know about it. That connection is gone now.”
I'm guess I'm good with the name change. I worry about any limits on free speech, but sometimes I’m willing to compromise after weighing all sides of the issue. If a simple action can help reduce the hurt in even a few people, and bring us closer together, I say do it. But I also worry that these issues may also driving a wedge between us. It comes down to how it's done. I think the team would have dropped the name soon, without boycotts. Activists don't really see it that way. I'm worried that they'll never be satisfied and will never stop. When I was a kid, we would often get out of our desks and sit "Indian Style" on the floor. Recently, I was told that's an offensive term and "we don't use it anymore." Really? Indian style refers to the yoga-like sitting position that goes back 5.000 years in India. They're Indians over there, right? Once all the names have changed, will the Native American Heritage Fund be retired? I doubt it.
Former talk show host Neil Boortz said, "You are not born with any right not to be offended, and I am here to recognize that you don't have that right."
My point is, I put my freedom of speech way ahead of your feelings. I don't care who you are. Way ahead. Everybody's feelings. I'm getting very close to a point were I'm not going to be willing to compromise. But, for now, I'm good with it. I guess.