COLUMN: Does NFL moniker warrant controversy?

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By John Shindlebower

The power to set the agenda is one that should be exercised with great caution. Unfortunately, that power is too-often placed in the hands and minds of those who would rather push an agenda than simply set it.
The recent fuss over the name and logo of Washington’s NFL franchise is an example of a few select media types moving a non-story onto the front pages and stirring up anger, agitation and racial hostility where it apparently was next to non-existent before. The Washington Redskins date back to the 1930s and is one of the league’s most popular teams with one of the league’s most passionate fan bases.
Several years ago, there was a brief dust-up about the name and logo, but a number of polls, surveys and studies concluded that the name was inoffensive to most Americans, and even many Indian tribes had no quarrel with the moniker, accepting it as more respect than insult. That’s the way I have always seen it.
As a young boy, there were two things that I was passionate about. Sports and the American Indian. I would busy myself in the school or public library reading and checking out as many books about Indians as I could find. I admired their simple lives, their courage and their respect for the land. There was something about the Indian that I always considered noble. When my grandparents would relate to us stories about our ancestors, I was always proud when they mentioned my Cherokee and Blackfoot blood, although I can’t pretend to know what percentage actually runs through my veins.
While much of my school day may have found me turning the pages of a book about Chief Joseph in the Walla Walla Valley or the Seminole War down in Florida, my evenings would find me laying on the floor with the sports section of the newspaper a foot away from my face. I’d scour those pages every day, absorbing every name, number, factoid and piece of information I could find.
From time to time, my two interests would intersect. Imagine my thrill when I picked up a book about Jim Thorpe, an American Indian athlete generally regarded as the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Then I found myself drawn to teams based on their names. The Florida State Seminoles, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins. They didn’t automatically become my favorite teams necessarily, but when there was no other rooting interest, their names would generally win my allegiance for at least that game.
So when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins met twice a year on the football field, the choice was clear for me. As a kid, I almost saw the matchup as a chance for the Indian to give a well-deserved beat-down on the Cowboy. I’d see the Redskin logo and never thought it represented a savage or some inferior being, but I saw him as a noble representative of a very courageous people. Even as a child, I thought the name and logo greatly respected an entire ethnic group.
Fast-forward 35 to 40 years and the Redskin is once again under attack. This time by the “tolerant” do-gooders who refused to let a sleeping dog lie and decided that they would take up the war chant and create a frenzied response to something they themselves deemed offensive and racist. It started with a newspaper column here or there, an ESPN talking point, or a radio talk show host who had run out of legitimate items to discuss and needed a quick way to light up the switchboard.
Now it’s become a major issue this NFL season. Many college administrations have in recent years predictably bowed down to the pressure of the intolerant leftists who demanded change. At the University of North Dakota, the NCAA threatened to punish the school for its Fighting Sioux nickname and mascot. College officials were met with opposition when they initially considered changing the name, but a statewide vote allowed school administration to drop the allegedly offensive name, but no new mascot has been selected as yet and will not be used until 2015.
Florida State kept its Seminole mascot after the Seminole tribe spoke up in favor of allowing FSU to continue honoring those people by using their name. Many other schools have been forced to change. St. Johns and Miami of Ohio are two schools who have changed their mascots. Even Marquette, once known as the Warriors, became the Eagles. (What’s offensive about Warriors?)
The issue had died for a while, but the agenda-setters in the media decided they needed a good story and a good conflict, so they beat the drums on this Redskin issue until it became one of the leading stories this season. Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder has thus far refused to budge and said he will never change the name. Good for him. Polls and surveys continue to reveal that a large number of Indians have no problem at all with the name, but the media continues to seek out those few vocal opponents.
The issue will be here the remainder of the season. My hope however is that come August 2014, the Redskins will still be playing football. I’ll still be rooting for them to beat the Cowboys and will also be rooting that adults can finally learn to tell the difference between a show of respect and an insult.