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Blubaugh: Long past time for Washington to punt the most offensive team name in sports l COMMENTARY

One positive development of the current social justice movement that’s mostly written about in sports sections, but carries wider ramifications, is the move by the Washington Redskins to look into, finally, punting the most offensive team name in sports.

This is not political correctness or the latest casualty of our cancel culture. It’s the right thing to do.

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Imagine a professional team proudly using a derogatory word or ethnic stereotype or racist caricature for African Americans as its nickname. Or for Hispanics. Or Asians.

Unimaginable.

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Yet this team is called by a name that is described for what it is — a slur against Native Americans — by every dictionary. American Heritage calls is “disparaging.” Webster’s calls it “contemptuous.” Collins calls it “derogatory.” Oxford’s calls it “dated” and “offensive.”

But anyone with half a brain already knew that, particularly anyone who’d seen old westerns in which the “Indians” were savages and the word was used by the “good guys” in a context that made its meaning quite clear. That meaning was never anything close to “noble human being deserving of respect.”

To say this change is overdue is to say a championship-caliber football team in D.C. is overdue.

Reports of Native American groups protesting the pejorative being used to describe the NFL team in our nation’s capital date to the 1960s. The name came under serious scrutiny in the 1990s and has been the subject of regular protests and legal challenges since. Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, has said for two decades that he would never change the name.

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But, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, with so many vestiges of racism being toppled or at least looked at critically — and under intense pressure from sponsors — the team recently announced it would conduct a “thorough review’ of its name and logo.

The team is belatedly doing all it can to distance itself from original owner George Preston Marshall, who both gave the team its offensive nickname and did everything he could to keep Black players off its roster. The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate, refusing to sign an African American until 1962 — fully 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke the pro sports color barrier and 10 years later than every other NFL team.

It seems this is finally going to happen. The Associated Press reported that some 15 Native American leaders and organizations sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to force the team to drop “Redskins.” Goodell has previously showed steadfast support for the team’s name, but recently he’s been in a flip-flopping mood on issues of social justice, suddenly becoming Colin Kaepernick’s No. 1 fan.

Numerous teams have dumped ill-conceived nicknames. Miami (Ohio) University renounced Redskins nearly a quarter-century ago, shortly after St. John’s reversed course on Redmen, which came a decade before Syracuse 86′d Orangemen. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Under pressure from local Native American groups, Stanford discontinued use of Indians as a nickname in 1972, two years before Dartmouth did the same.

Note that all of the above are college teams. Branding and logos are far more lucrative at the professional level. Team names very rarely change.

The Cleveland Indians, who smartly ditched their ridiculous, toothy, caricature logo two years ago, are considering changing their name and probably will sooner rather than later. It’s less clear what teams like the Atlanta Braves or Kansas City Chiefs will do. While groups of people shouldn’t become nicknames, at least “Braves” and “Chiefs” can have positive connotations.

The same absolutely cannot be said for “Redskins.” And even though some polls show that a majority of Native Americans say they don’t want so see the name changed — largely because mainstream culture barely recognizes their existence outside of sports nicknames, logos and mascots — many do. We can find better ways to recognize, respect and keep alive Native American traditions than by using a word that was once regularly sneered at them with disdain.

The guess here is that the nickname will be benched before this season begins, 2021 at the latest. It probably will be as minor a change as is possible — perhaps to Warriors, reportedly a favorite of Snyder’s.

That wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be progress. Long overdue progress.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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