Newsweek senior writer John Walters has spent time on reservations. In fact, after graduating from college, he lived in New Mexico and volunteered full-time at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe. He taught chemistry and coached basketball, and the student body – 400 deep – lived on campus.
Just out of curiosity, what did those students think of the Washington Redskins?
“Obviously, this whole thing wasn’t an issue at the time,” Walters said on The Doug Gottlieb Show, referring to the team mascot, “but my male students – and I never took a poll – but this was overwhelmingly their favorite team. The only team I remember kids having gear from were the Redskins. I’m not saying every student had Redskins gear, but (we had) a community TV in the men’s dorm, and if the Redskins were playing, we had more kids watching that game.”
“But again, you have to understand: These are kids who see a face on a helmet that looks like them. It’s not so much the name; it’s the image on the helmet that they were associating with. They are a people that don’t have much in the United States with which to associate.”
In light of that, just how derogatory or offensive or inappropriate is the slur?
Walters’ took a very literal approach to answering that question.
“In the story I wrote in Newsweek back in October, I used the term ‘appropriate,’ and what I like about appropriate is it’s both a verb and an adjective,” Walters said. “As an adjective, it means suitable or proper. But as a verb, it means to take something for one’s own use – typically without the owner’s permission. That’s why this is such a good word to discuss the whole Redskins issue. You’re asking (whether it is) appropriate, but aren’t we the ones who appropriated it? To me, it’s up to people who are Native American to decide whether or not they think it’s appropriate.”
That’s right. Native Americans. Not Daniel Snyder, who reiterated this week that he has no intention of changing the team name.
“People don’t like Dan Snyder, so this is an easy cause to get behind,” Walters said. “Another thing, though, (is) unlike Chiefs and unlike Braves, this is a team that reflects directly to how you look. We live in this country where we’re very sensitive – and rightly so – with African Americans, and when you talk about Redskins, you’re judging someone by the color of their skin by saying that. Now, again, that’s up to Native Americans to decide whether or not they’re offended by it, but they have every right to be if they want to be.”
Walters, interestingly enough, doesn’t think Snyder actually cares about the name. Doug Gottlieb feels the same way. Snyder is a capitalist. Yes, he’d make a lot of money immediately if he changed the name, but he’d lose the branding that has endured for generations.
“Here’s what I would (say) to Dan Snyder if I had a chance to advise him,” Walters said. “I’d ask him what is his religious faith, and I would ask him if he remembers what happened to the members of that religious faith when they were driven off what they thought was their land – and whether or not those people would appreciate it if I honored them by giving them a name and having everyone call them that name to celebrate the fact that they fought for their land. That’s what I would ask him.”
But would you tell him to change it?
“I wouldn’t tell him to change it; I wouldn’t tell him not to change it,” Walters said. “I would tell him to search his conscience.”