American Football - Can we talk about racism now?

Redskins: Insult and Brand - C. Richard King

ARC via Netgalley.  


                I really couldn’t care less about American football.  Truly, couldn’t care less.  Yet, I felt it was necessary to read this book because even I am aware of the various stances sport writers have taken over the name of Washington, DC’s football team.  It’s like the only time I have like Bob Costas (I have never forgiven him for describing a cantering horse as flying like Pegasus). 


                King’s book focuses on the debate about the name of Washington’s team.  For the record, in case you don’t know, the football team in Washington DC is called Redskins.  This is a derogatory term for many Native Americans, and, according to King, it is basically the equivalent of the n word..


                And really, you don’t even need to know the second part.     It should be enough to know that it is an insult. 


 There has been an increasing vocal protest movement against racially incentive names for sports teams in the United States.   Washington’s team is only the most obvious case in point.  King’s book traces not only the meaning of the name, but also the various arguments presented by the name’s defenders and those who argue for the name’s removal.


King’s discussion of the terms history also includes how the term and where it is used can affect people.  The name isn’t the sole issue, though it is a large part of it, but also is the use of the name while on land that was gained as the result war and/or resettlement as well as the taking of Native American children and forcing them into government Christian schools.


It is to King’s credit that he also looks at the motivations of those who want the name to stay.  He does focus on the question of emotional ties to the name.  While King clearly ranks these emotional attachments as less importance (and rightly so in my mind), he at least explores the ideas and the reasons for it.   He also, then, quite deftly dismantles the arguments put forward by the team as well as the “we have Native Americans that like the name point”.


Quite frankly, you will most likely not want to root for Washington in any sporting event. 


You also might find your view of such teams, like the Braves, changing as well.

At times, the book does get a little repetitive, and sometimes, I found myself wishing that at one point there was clear definition of difference and honoring.  Is any Native American reference in a sports team an insult?  I’m not asking to be smart nor do I mean to suggest that dressing up as a Hollywood Indian to support a team is not insulting; I seriously want to know.  For instance, is there any way that the Washington (or any sports team for that matter) is legitimately honoring a Native American tribe and/or group?  Is even asking the question insulting?   In fairness to King, most likely this question has been addressed in his other books. 


Another weak point is the section about the use of the term Redskin by non NFL sport teams.  This chapter could have been more detailed, including the look of the term as used by high schools.  This is made up by the section discussing the difference in view of those Native Americans who live on reservations versus those who either do not live or have lived away from reservations for a    long period of time. 


Seriously, this book should be required reading for any American sports fan.